Stacey and her partner Keith became the proud parents to twins after their long IVF journey, here she describes how their time on neonatal was worlds apart from what she expected:
Our stay in the neonatal unit began about 80 miles away from home, after the umpteenth visit into hospital since having labour stopped at 28 weeks. It was such a strange time. We knew we would end up having a stay on the unit, but the truth is, we had absolutely no idea what to expect.
Nothing prepared us for it. Although I’d researched it, I clearly knew nothing. My bag was packed full of wipes, first size vests, grows and blankets along with their coming home outfits just like any mum would pack in her hospital bag. I thought in a few days, we’d be heading home and life as a four would begin. I didn’t even consider the fact that the outfits wouldn’t fit for weeks, some even months. I didn’t know that we wouldn’t be allowed to use wipes on their delicate skin.
We were showed around before the boys were born and I remember asking stupid questions like “how much does that baby weigh?” and “how long are we likely to need to stay?” It was such an alien environment, alarms bleeping, wires all over the place and babies in glass boxes. I really had no clue, and it wasn’t until that point I realised, I had no concept of size or anything that I could relate to until they came. I was completely blind.
After four days of stop and start contractions, I finally went into labour. A consultant came to me and said he suspected placental abruption, and advised me to have a caesarean. The babies were in no distress at this point, but I couldn’t carry on.
At 10:03am on Friday 30 January 2015, at 31 weeks and four days, I finally became a mummy. I remember seeing baby number one in the delivery room as they held him up. Keith confirmed we had a boy and I remember seeing the little legs dangling in the air as they held him like a trophy, weighing 3lb10oz. He was screaming, which was such a welcome sound after such a worrying morning.
When baby number two appeared two minutes later at 10:05am, I remember Keith saying we had another boy. I was so shocked as I had such a strong feeling I’d got girls in there. He was struggling with his breathing so he was whisked away before I could really take a look. He weighed 3lb15oz. We had pictures on Keith’s phone, but he couldn’t even tell me who was who.
In the recovery area, we decided on names. Baby number two would be Ronnie, because a girl would have been called Bonnie, and baby number one would be Arnie because it was closest to my mums name, Annie, and we’d wanted to incorporate her after losing her in 2012.
Keith wheeled me down to see them a few hours after they were born. I was dosed up on morphine and felt really sick but I just needed to see them. Walking into the neonatal unit was daunting. We were guided through a door marked ‘high dependency’ where Ronnie was because he needed help with his breathing. There was a row of incubators, I didn’t know who was who, or even which of them belonged to us. They pointed to a side room where Arnie was and Ronnie was in the corner by the window being ventilated.
I’d just become a mummy after a very long road to get there. I was full to bursting with love and excitement for my new bundles of joy and wanted to show the world, but there was still such a long road to go. Keith found it very hard being in those clinical rooms. He didn’t hold the boys until about day three, the wires and bleeps were just too much and they were so delicate he was scared he’d break them. We were reassured that things would be ok as the boys weighed well for their gestation, our saving grace.
I never really felt like their mummy right away. I felt more like a carer having to inform someone of every nappy change, feeding them my milk through a tiny tube and giving them a wash. I couldn’t just pick them up, cuddle and kiss them like most new mums. I had to be helped with wires and manoeuvre them through the little gap in the glass. The staff went above and beyond to make us feel at ease, and I can’t thank them enough for that. But no amount of comforting words could stop our hearts breaking, looking at our boys in their little glass boxes with tubes and wires everywhere.
Friends were having babies around the same time as us and got to go home the same day. I remember thinking how lucky they were. I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s like to go through a stay on the unit unless they’ve gone through it. I couldn’t wait for the day I’d change a nappy and not have to log it in a book. Keith wasn’t taking paternity leave until both boys were home, so he drove to see us almost daily and sometimes even stayed over, taking me out for meals at night on the nurses orders.
We were transferred closer to home when they were 17 days old, and after a short stay for Arnie, he came home at just three weeks old. This was the hardest part of the entire journey, as I had to somehow adapt to being a mother whilst juggling home life with daily hospital visits. I was overrun with guilt every time I cuddled Arnie, thinking of little Ronnie laying there on his own.
Ronnie needed a little longer as he kept holding his breath and turning blue. One minute he’d be doing so well, the next he was back in high dependency. He was there until he was six weeks old, when we finally got to bring him home to join his big brother, two days before my first Mother’s Day.
By the time we’d finally got them home, we’d spent so much time in hospital that we just wanted to stay in a bubble all together and catch up on six weeks of lost cuddles and kisses. I didn’t want to let anyone in on that part, it was so important to spend that time as a family. I think that being in the environment of washing hands so much they’d bleed and the constant eyes on us made us so desperate to just be ‘us’.
We were so aware of the danger of germs and what it would mean if we had to take them back to hospital that we just cocooned ourselves. Not everyone understood that, but having gone through what we had, risks weren’t worth taking. I still find we worry more than most. Some would call it overprotective maybe, but that’s just how we are and I can’t see it changing anytime soon.
After all those years of wanting, craving and obsessing, the tears, the hospital trips, the needles, we finally had our beautiful baby boys who’d fought just as hard as we had to be here. We are so lucky. At one point I honestly thought it wouldn’t happen for us, but we didn’t give up and eventually IVF gave us our ticket to parenthood.
For those still on your journey, stay strong, keep obsessing, keep craving and keep fighting! It’s no easy road, but one well worth the trip. Talk about it, shout about it and be proud of it. It makes us all stronger. I for one am proud of us all for going through it. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve yelled at each other but we’ve laughed again. Reach out, be open and stay positive. I’ve been on this earth 29 years and I’ve only been truly alive the last year.
Ronnie and Arnie turn one today (Saturday 30 January). I can’t even believe these thriving boys were once so small and fragile, we burst with pride every day. As much as I feel emotional about their first birthday, I’m so proud of how far they’ve come in such a small space of time.
You can read more about Stacey, Keith, Ronnie and Arnie on Stacey's blog: kickstartbabies.wordpress.com/, or follow their journey on Instagram: instagram.com/kickstartbabies/
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