Having twins during COVID-19 – Tammy’s story

Restrictions to parental access at the neonatal unit meant Tammy and her husband had to take turns visiting their newborn twins and cope with hearing bad news on their own.

You'd think already having a daughter born premature would have prepared me for having a second neonatal journey. But giving birth to twins at 34 weeks at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was unlike anything I had experienced before.

To start with, for the last 10 weeks of my pregnancy, I was going in for weekly scans but for the final four, my husband, Shayne, couldn't come with me because no visitors were allowed into the hospital. So, each time I was terrified of hearing bad news on my own. Fortunately, he could be there for Miles and Elijah's birth, but he was only allowed to stay for an hour afterwards.

I pushed to be discharged as soon as I could, 27 hours after the twins were born, so that we could be together to deal with what was happening. I made myself get onto my feet and move around, despite the pain, because I knew from having Isabelle that that was the best way to heal. But being discharged meant leaving the boys. When I had my daughter at 34 weeks, we had been able to room in at the hospital, visit whenever we wanted, and when she was well enough, Isabelle was able to move into our room. But it was a totally different story with the twins.

We live at least 45 minutes from the hospital and since I was still recovering from my c-section, we had to drive in together. But, because of the changes to parental access caused by COVID-19, we couldn’t go onto the unit together. So one of us would have to stay in the waiting room while the other went in to be with Miles and Elijah, and then we would switch over. Once there, we had to divide our time between the twins, so we both got only 40 minutes a day with each twin.

Because we couldn’t be in there together, and Elijah was receiving oxygen via a tube attached to the wall, we needed a nurse to help us take both twins out at the same time and then put them back into their incubators. So we probably managed to hold them both together just twice each throughout the whole month.

The guilt we felt about not being able to give Miles and Elijah the care we felt they needed was immense. I was constantly watching the clock, working out how much time to spend with each baby, when it was Shayne's turn to come in and when we needed to go back to home-school Isabelle and spend time with her. When she had been in intensive care, she had got 100% of our time, and that would have been the same even if she had been born during COVID-19 because she was a singleton. But because we couldn't be on the unit together, we had to divide a smaller amount of time two ways.

We fought as hard as we could for that to be changed as we thought 'one parent per patient’ would mean parents of twins could both be on the unit, especially as the NICU wasn't busy and we were the only ones with multiples. But even though there were other units nearby where that was the policy, we still weren't allowed. We felt like it didn't make sense.

As a result, when someone from the hospital who I had never seen before told me that the twins were suspected to have MRSA, I was all by myself. I had no idea what that meant, whether it could kill them, and what it meant I could or couldn't do. So I started to panic and broke down crying. I didn’t even say a proper goodbye to the boys that day because I was too upset.

The boys were treated with antiseptic bath washes and nasal ointment, which meant we weren't able to give them their first baths. After five days of that treatment, there was a four-day wait to find out if it had been effective. They were still testing positive so then the process had to start again. 9 days later, there was another set of results, where Elijah tested negative for MRSA but Miles was still positive. This result came the day before they were going to be discharged so we thought we'd have to go through it all again. But rather than give Miles another course of treatment, the doctor said that because it was an issue in the hospital, we could just take Miles home instead. That made us quite nervous because we weren't sure if he really would get better on his own. The whole process was mentally draining because it just felt like one thing after another to worry about.

Throughout all of this, we had far less support than we had when we were in neonatal care with Isabelle. On the day she was born, we had Shayne's mum and sister, my parents and my sister and her family, and close friends would come to the hospital every week. But even Isabelle wasn't able to see Miles and Elijah until they came home. We could only show her pictures and videos, and FaceTime her a few times when we were with them. We had to even ask Public Health England if we were allowed to have my parents look after her while we were in hospital.

Shayne and I having to spend so much time in the hospital definitely started to affect Isabelle. So we changed our routine to be able to spend the afternoons with her. She had been so excited about meeting the boys that she started to text me every day from my parent's phone asking if they were ready to come home yet. It was so hard to tell her no.

We were finally able to leave the neonatal unit after 31 days thanks to a doctor who helped Elijah come off oxygen by changing the monitor he was on. Then we were able to spend a month together as a family as Shayne's work let him have a month of unpaid parental leave in addition to the paternity leave and holiday he had already taken while we were in hospital. Otherwise Shayne would have had to start doing 12-hour shifts just two days after we got Miles and Elijah home.

That month helped us to deal with what had just happened and to have quality time all together after so long being separated. The experience certainly impacted both Shayne's and my mental health. But we got each other through it – he is my rock. And although we still feel guilty that we couldn't care for the twins in the way we wanted, we know we were trying our hardest for them and for Isabelle.