“Be kind to yourselves, take all the support you can get and accept help” - Elspeth’s and Craig’s story

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Elspeth and Craig's identical twins Remy and Forrest were born at 29 weeks and five days. In their story, they share all the ups and down of their journey to bringing their boys home after 74 days in neonatal care.

We knew from 22 weeks that our identical twins were going to be born early. After a scan, we were sent straight to King's College Hospital to meet a specialist team who explained that I had reduced and intermittent blood flow between my placenta and the babies.

We were told it was like someone putting their finger over the end of a straw that my babies were trying to breathe through. They also had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and were barely getting any bigger; we simply had to get as far as we could and get the babies as big as possible.

Our amazing midwife at the local hospital, Jude, arranged for us to go and visit the neonatal unit, meet the staff and other parents, and start to familiarise ourselves with what we knew would become our normality for a while. This was terrifying but really helped us start to get our heads around what was to come.

What made the biggest difference at this point was my employer. They were absolutely incredible, empathetic, and concerned, and I ended up finishing work at 27 weeks. I can't imagine having to worry about working whilst all of this was going on - it was just taken off my plate.

At 29 weeks and five days, the risk of keeping the babies in became too high and I was taken in an ambulance from our local hospital in Chelmsford to Queen's Hospital in Romford which had available intensive care beds for the twins.

Our boys Remy and Forrest were delivered via emergency caesarean and were being worked on straight away by their respective neonatal teams. Remy weighed 970 grams and Forrest 1.07kg.

They presented better than everyone had thought and were even breathing partially on their own for a short time. We caught a glimpse of the boys as they were being cared for straight after the birth - both in clear plastic wrapping to keep them warm. It isn't what any parents dream of when they first meet their children but we were relieved and scared in equal measure.

They were taken to the neonatal unit where unfortunately the short "honeymoon period" came to an end. By the time my partner got to see them, both boys were on ventilators and had had operations to insert a long line into their veins, which would supply them with nutrition whilst their tummies developed.

Seeing them for the first time in their incubators, barely visible under all of the wires and machines is a moment I'll never forget. We were so grateful they were with us and being looked after, but terrified.

I was completely overwhelmed by the environment, the machines, the numbers, the sounds - and I was scared to ask what everything meant because I feared the answers.

I was discharged after two days and going home without our babies for the first time was one of the hardest things we'll ever do. As parents, it is completely unnatural and our hearts were breaking for the tiny little boys in the incubators that we could practically do very little for.

We spent all of our time at the hospital and on day three, we were told that Remy was being taken to the Royal London to meet with surgeons as they feared his tummy and bowel weren't developed or functioning properly. I had never imagined the boys being separated - we had to choose whether to stay in one hospital or leave Forrest and go with his brother. We decided on the latter as it just was too difficult to face alone.

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As we were in a taxi on our way to the hospital, the traffic parted for an ambulance - that we realised was carrying Remy. Seeing your three-day-old baby blue-lighted past you is something I will never forget, as much as I wish to! The St John's Ambulance team that transported him were absolutely incredible.

We are actually still in touch with Trevor, the amazing man who looked after our boy and got him there safely amongst the chaos and tears. He came to visit us and the boys a few times after that day and he even gave us his badge from his uniform which will sit proudly in the boys' bedroom.

We had two weeks of travelling back and forth between the boys and whilst in London were given accommodation by The Sick Children's Trust, next to the hospital, which was incredible. We alternated nights away in each place and just made it work the best we could, even when we had phone calls from each hospital which was always terrifying! One evening Remy's long line snapped inside his vein whilst we were with Forrest. We couldn't be with both of them so you just have to trust the teams.

I took great comfort in reading Bliss' stories during these early days. It can be such a lonely experience that even knowing people had come through the other side of it gave us hope.

When the boys were finally reunited at our local hospital, Broomfield in Chelmsford, it was one of the best days ever. They were happy for Remy to be at a level two hospital and Forrest was also progressing (thanks to his favourite nurses at Queen's, Neema and Mel). Broomfield was amazing from day one and made us feel at home. The relief of having us all under one roof was incredible.

At Broomfield, we were introduced to Naomi, our Bliss Champion. It was amazing speaking to someone who had been through the neonatal journey and just having someone to chat with. There was also a group that had been set up previously by parents in the unit which I found to be a great support.

The nurses were all amazing and we became close with a lot of the team - you spend so much time there, every single day, we were almost institutionalised by the hospital environment. It becomes your safe place and your normality. We would go home for a few hours sleep and then drive straight back.

We sadly became so familiar with so much - blood transfusions, lumbar punctures, cannulas, breathing support, feeding tubes - all things that were then just second nature and how we cared for our babies.

We became friendly with a lot of the other parents in the unit - for us, this was really important as we felt able to support others at the beginning of their journey, and just take comfort in discussing the scary things that others had also been through. You really do realise that you're not alone and so many others are on similar, but different paths.

Eventually, as we were told we were getting closer to going home, I was terrified. The idea of having no machines or wires attached to our babies frightened me the most. How would we know if they were ok? What would we do without the nurses? Jackie, the Unit Manager and the team were amazing at putting our minds at ease.

We knew we wouldn't be discharged until we were ready but I just couldn't ever see that day coming. However, as soon as the machines were off, and we stayed a few nights with them at the hospital in a separate room, they were just our babies and we were their parents. And it felt amazing.

After 74 days, we took the boys home. We felt ready, and we felt they were ready - something at times I genuinely never thought would happen. It was such an amazing and emotional day saying goodbye. It took us hours to get out as the nurses all wanted cuddles with the babies before we left!

We will forever be grateful to everyone at all of the units. How can you ever thank someone for saving your babies?

My advice to anyone starting their neonatal journey is this - be kind to yourself, take all the support you can get and accept help. We had meals cooked for us and washing done which was fantastic. Our family and friends have been amazing through the whole experience.

Keep loved ones up to date and involve them but don't put any extra pressure on yourself. We found everyone to be so supportive, understanding and patient, but it is incredibly difficult for others too. Share the ups and downs but if you need some time just for yourselves, take it. It's impossible to balance everything and sometimes just getting through the day is enough!

Dads - please make sure you are talking and getting support too!

The boys are almost eight months old now and thriving. We absolutely love having them home and honestly, after this experience, even the tough bits just don't seem that tough. We feel so lucky to have these happy, cheeky boys in our lives and can't wait to see them grow.

We have stayed close with a number of families from the NICU and meet up regularly. It's amazing to be able to support each other after everyone's different journeys and incredible to see these strong babies thriving - they, and you, are tougher than you think!

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