Meeting Rosie & Olivia
To say I hated being pregnant is an understatement.
I honestly can't recall a single time throughout it where I felt happy with not only my body but also the actual feeling of being pregnant. Every single part of me was uncomfortable.
We didn't get off to the most conventional of starts either. My partner and I lived over an hour away from each other. We saw each other four nights a week, commuting back and forth. We wanted 2019 to be our year to start a family, and we knew we needed to bite the bullet and just move in together, but due to our differing work types and schedules, it wasn't an option.
So when my landlord had to sell up at the end of February, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to just make it work. The very next day, after deciding to cohabitate, I woke up so sick. I thought I must have eaten something bad and just pushed on with my day.
Later at work I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. My hair looked so luscious and incredible that I immediately thought something was wrong and walked to the chemist to pick up a pregnancy test.
I waited until I got home, peed on the stick, and stared at it trying to decide if I imagined the two lines that had shown up. I hadn't.
I walked to my bedroom, placed the stick on the bed in front of my partner and just kind of sat there. He was thrilled; I was trying to come to terms with it. I always knew kids would be a part of my life, but I am not the most maternal of people, so it took a while for me to adjust to the fact I was with child. It really did explain why I had been feeling so crappy. I rode out the weekend and booked in to see my doctor on Monday morning. It went something like this – "Well, we can send you for a blood test. If your hCG levels are higher than 2000, you'll need to go get a dating scan, but I really doubt they will be higher than that. I'll text you."
Later that day when I got the text: "hCG levels above 50,000, please go and have a dating scan done ASAP".
Oh, goody. I really had no inkling why they could be so high. We booked in to have a scan done that Friday.
As I was lying there, my partner, the sonographer and myself were swapping a bit of banter, and she said, "I don't know how to tell you this, but there is two of them". We weren't shocked. Thirty years ago, my Mum went to a psychic who said someone was having twins; I just didn't expect it to be me.
So that explained why I was so sick. Honestly, the six months that I was pregnant just feel like a blur of severe nausea and sleeping. On top of my usual workday, I now had to commute 2 hours each way while heavily pregnant. My waddle was severe. My pelvis was aching every second of the day thanks to one of the babies heads sitting nicely in there.
Combine that with a short cervix it's no wonder they came early. Every night I went to bed, I just told the girls I needed them to get past 28 weeks. I don't know why I had picked that time specifically, but it just seemed really important. We had a scan at 25 weeks, and the doctor told me if I didn't start resting, he was going to put me on bed rest. So we agreed to cut my work days from 6 days a week to 4. I was happy with that.
A week later I called in late to work because I was feeling so run down. I didn't go in until midday and continued to deteriorate that day. I felt like I was getting the chills, so I kept an eye on my temperature, and as it slowly increased, I decided to leave work and go to the Women's & Children's Hospital. They did a few tests, including a nasal swab, and it came back as being positive for influenza A. They prescribed a course of Tamiflu and a week off work. The following days I was in a world of pain from the muscle aches, it was honestly awful. Then my asthma kicked in and brought on a cough. So when I woke up two nights in a row with wet undies, I honestly thought I was peeing myself from coughing so much.
The day before the morning of I woke up and started crying to my partner. He couldn't understand what was wrong, and through tears, I explained to him that on top of everything I was now peeing myself. He felt so terrible for me, but he hugged me and said it was going to be okay. So I went about the day wearing my adult 'nappy', and I decided we had to finish off the nursery and pack the baby bags - call it mother's intuition.
Later that night, I was texting a friend while binging Netflix, and I explained to her what was happening. She told me it wasn't normal and to call the hospital to speak to a midwife, so I did. The midwife said I needed to come in to get checked out. But here's the thing, we live rurally, and it was over an hour to get there. I didn't want to go on in just to be sent home. So I hung up and told my partner the midwife said we could go in tomorrow. She called me back not even a minute later and said she had called a hospital closer to home and arranged for me to go and be seen by them. Well played. We got changed, told my partner's family we would be back in half an hour and that it was just a check-up.
We got to the hospital, and they said they didn't think I was in labour, but they would check my cervix anyway. The doctor had a concerned look on her face when she was doing this and announced to me that I was 1cm dilated, and there were ruptured membranes. She also said that I needed to be transferred to Women's & Children's Hospital as soon as possible as they're the only hospital with a NICU.
I was 27 weeks and six days pregnant and was scared, to say the least. And then it was all hands on deck. I had an IV inserted into my left hand, and I was given a steroid shot in my leg and antibiotics in my arm. We convinced the doctor that because I wasn't in active labour we were okay to drive ourselves to the next hospital, I don't know how but they let us go. We arrived at Women's & Children's Hospital just after 1 am and waited in women's assessment for a private bed to be made available. After all, I still needed to be treated like I had the flu.
When we went up to the room they told my partner he was fine to leave and go home to sleep, no one thought the babies were coming today. After he left, I drifted off to sleep and woke suddenly half an hour later. My waters had broken, and I was absolutely drenched. I hit the call button and waited patiently, looking at the clock on the wall to time the contractions. When the doctor came in to recheck my cervix he said I was 2cm dilated, they put the side rails up on the bed and started wheeling me up to delivery. I was on my own; my partner was now over an hour away. I called him and said he needed to leave home straight away. Going into the delivery suite was scary. I wasn't ready.
This is not an exaggeration, the room filled with doctors and nurses and midwives. Everyone was there to try and stop me from going into labour. On top of the IV that was in my left hand, I had a magnesium drip inserted in my right hand, a pethidine line inserted in my chest, another steroid shot in my legs, more antibiotics as well as oral antibiotics. They started the high flow of magnesium sulphate, 20 minutes of absolute torture. I don't know what is worse, that or labour? I was held down while the flow was completed. My whole body hot and clammy and the room was spinning. When it slowed, I could focus on the contractions and breathing through them with gas.
My partner finally arrived at 8:30 am, and from there, it honestly felt like labour stopped. I no longer was having contractions. The doctor came in at 10:30 am, said to me I didn't look at all like a woman in labour and proceeded to do another sweep of the cervix. I was 8cm dilated, and the girls were coming today. We weren't ready, and they weren't ready either.
They still had another three months before they were due. The anesthesiologist came in to administer an epidural; there was no choice in this; it had to be done. One of the girls was not in the right position to birth naturally, and they needed to be able to go in and turn her if necessary.
After the epidural they started to remove furniture from the room, they needed to make sure there was enough space for everyone to be there.
The NICU teams came down and saw me and told me they would do everything they could to care for the girls. And then we waited. I don't know when exactly it became time to push; it just happened.
On the 11th of July 2019, Rosie was born at 1:57 pm. She literally fell out. Her NICU team of 5 took her away before I could see her. Then labour stopped again. Olivia was still in her sac, and there was talk of leaving her altogether until she was ready. They decided the risk of infection was too high so the doctor broke my waters (I understand now why he had gumboots on). Olivia was a little bit trickier, and she required a forceps delivery. She made her way into the world at 2:27 pm, 30 minutes after her sister. I got to see the top of her head before they took her away. Both girls were born vaginally, and if I could do nothing else for them at least, I could do that. And that was it.
I was left with one doctor and one midwife from about 20 people. It was about 4 hours before I was able to go to NICU and see our girls. Seeing your babies hooked up to that many machines and being assisted with their breathing is the scariest thing I have ever seen. All things considered, they were both very healthy and were just over 1000g each.
Being so far away from the hospital, we booked to stay in a motel for a week, so we could be close while they were still so fragile. And then we decided we needed to return to normal life, or whatever our normal was now.
Two weeks after their birth, I returned to work. Many for this decision judged me, but the girls spent a total of 11 weeks in the hospital. That's 11 weeks I would have lost of maternity pay to spend at home with them. It was hard, but I am so glad I did it. I think the worst part of being back at work was going back to my commute and feeling like I was nobody on the train, no one knew that silently I was suffering.
I would go to the hospital in the mornings before work, then work for 5 hours. Then my partner and I would spend the rest of the afternoon at the hospital with the girls learning to take care of them. They spent six weeks at Women's & Children's before being transferred to another hospital closer to home once they were lower risk.
Taking Rosie & Olivia home was the greatest day ever. It wasn't hard, and it hasn't been hard since. Nothing is as hard as those 11 weeks were. People told us we were so brave. I don't think it's brave; it's just pushing through and doing what needed to be done.
Sometimes, when I think about the whole pregnancy and birth, I feel ripped off.
I didn't get to experience the joy of being pregnant. I didn't have an easy labour. I didn't get to hold our girls when they were born. I didn't get to breastfeed, and we didn't get to bathe them until they were ten weeks old. We missed so many of the milestones that new parents get to have.
Nothing about our experience was normal. But going through something like that with the person you love brings a whole new appreciation to everything. When we are sitting up at 2 am feeding, there is no way we can feel anything but happiness with these two beautiful little beings that we created.
I said earlier I wasn't maternal. I'm still not. What is maternal, anyway? What I feel is that we have been entrusted with two little lives and we are their protectors and their voices. Maybe that's what being maternal is.