Twins on the unit – Coralina’s story

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110 days is a long time to spend in hospital. Coralina remembers what that time was like for her family.

My girls Erin and Lauren were born unexpectedly at 23+5 weeks weighing just 530g. Up until going into pre-term labour I had a great pregnancy and was a picture of health so their premature arrival was a shock.

We hadn’t even started to prepare in any way for the girls arrival, why would we? It was January and they were not due until nearly the end of May. I was not aware of neonatal units at all until my girls were admitted.

We were told to prepare for the worst during labour and I was given steroids and magnesium to help the girls’ very immature lungs and brains. Despite the odds, the girls were showing signs of life and attempting to breathe themselves when they were born. The hospital team managed to get them intubated and on the necessary breathing support but we were told it would be a rollercoaster and to prepare for a very long journey.

I remember the words the neonatal consultant said: “They are not the smallest and their skin is not the thinnest that we have brought through”. In those words there were no promises, no untruths…. but there was hope. I will be forever grateful for those words that meant so much at that point in time.

The very next day in all the papers there was a story about twins who were born at the same hospital that we were in. They were born at 23+4 weeks and they were 11 months old and doing well. Again we took some hope from seeing that story which was so close to our own journey that we were just beginning.

I spent 11 days in hospital and would go up to the neonatal unit all hours of the day to just gaze at the babies and check-in on them. After 11 days I was deemed fit for discharge and had to return home as the hospital did not have facilities for parents to stay close by. The hospital were very supportive when taking the decision to go home, they left it to me to decide and at no time did I feel I was being asked to give up a bed. During those 11 days in hospital, with the support of a breastfeeding adviser, I was able to establish milk production. Although the babies were so tiny and fragile they were able to take very small amounts of my milk through a tube.

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Every day I would travel an hour each way on the train then get off and walk up to the hospital it was the depths of winter. I would anxiously rush up to the hospital with my milk that I had expressed overnight to get it to the girls and to hear how they were doing. I remember being in a constant cycle of tiredness, anxiety and emotions but I could see Erin and Lauren were little fighters and fighting every step of the way.

The hospital had positive stories adorning the walls about premature babies and their journeys and if I read each one a hundred times. I took a little hope from each story I read. There were many up’s and downs during those first six weeks but after a very difficult time where we though we might lose one or both babies they turned a corner and at 30 weeks gestation we were asked how we felt about our girls being transferred to a hospital a bit closer to home. The hospital would still be a 50 mile round trip but we were reassured that they wouldn’t move the girls unless they were ready. As soon as two cots became available the transfer happened very quickly.

I remember rushing to the other hospital where Erin was already being taken care of and arriving just as the transport team were bringing Lauren in. Again the transfer came with new anxieties getting used to a new hospital, different staff and different procedures but I told myself it was just part of the journey of them getting stronger.

Fast forward 110 days and we were asked how we felt about preparing for the girls to come home.

Amazingly the girls were discharged from hospital three days before their original due date.

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The girls are now thriving wonderful toddlers and love going to our local nursery. They are happy, chatty and smart little girls. They came home on oxygen. We had it in the home for over a year but as soon as they were no longer oxygen dependent we got out and about a lot more. We have been away abroad on holiday, have been on fun weekends away and go swimming with the girls every week. We are just doing what other families do with young children.

During the NICU days I didn’t allow myself to look past the immediate as things felt so tenuous but now we love just doing normal things with our very funny, self-assured and sociable toddlers.

There were so many people who helped the girls and myself and my husband along the way. From the neonatal doctors and nurses, the hospital psychologist and the Bliss volunteers who had such a gentle and supportive approach. The journey didn’t stop at the girls’ discharge from hospital. We have had such strong support from our community children’s nurses, physio, occupational therapist and paediatric consultant to name a few.

Erin and Lauren have truly gone the distance to get to where they are now. I signed up to Bliss’ Go the Distance event and did 100 miles in September to raise funds for Bliss so that they can help parents remain with their babies whilst being cared for in the neonatal unit.

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