Rachel Strickson shares her experience of becoming mummy to premature twins at 34 weeks in 2020.
The silence was deafening! It seemed like forever….but then….there’s two heart beats!
The year previous to finding out I was expecting twins, I’d had two miscarriages and we were still trying to deal with the loss when we went for an early scan to find out we were expecting two perfect little rainbow babies. At only 6 weeks pregnant, we could see two tiny heartbeats. Every day of the pregnancy was a worry but as the weeks went on, we felt more and more at ease that everything was going to be ok. We joked that they would arrive anytime when I hit 30 weeks but we never actually believed it would happen.
I finished work for maternity leave earlier than expected after finding those last few weeks so difficult, and my husband and I had one last weekend away in the Lake District before the chaos began. We were deep into a global pandemic at this point and certainly did not have the pregnancy we expected. I was going to swim everyday and do yoga classes, and he would be with me at every appointment, but we were in lockdown the majority of the pregnancy. There were no cool, relaxing lengths in the pool, or no stretching in a class with other aching mums to be, and Paul was instead stuck sitting in the car at all of my appointments waiting for me to waddle out.
I was admitted into hospital at 33 weeks, the Friday before a bank holiday after a scan showed my little boy was far smaller than my girl. After an anxious wait to see a consultant, they decided they would monitor me and the babies every four hours, day and night and then induce a week or two later if he had not grown. Little did I know that they would soon run out of patience and decide they were coming the following day!
At just 34 weeks I went into labour and within forty-five minutes was being rushed into the delivery suite for them to be welcomed into the world. I was strapped up to monitors and had a room absolutely filled with doctors, midwives, health visitors and paediatricians. The labour seemed to be over in moments and before I could even have more than a quick glance, my beautiful Loxley was taken down to NICU along with my husband, quickly followed by Willow. Before I even realised what had happened, I was lying in the delivery room, alone and in perfect silence trying to process my thoughts.
The next few hours was a complete blur. I honestly don’t recall anything until I was on the ward with Willow. At a tiny 4lb10oz, she was so so small but well enough to leave NICU after just a couple of hours and be with me upstairs in the maternity unit. Loxley, on the other hand, was an even smaller 3lb on the dot and a mere sparrow. You see preemie babies on TV and online but it never really shows just how tiny and frail they actually are. Their skin is translucent and you can see every tiny vein. No one can prepare you for the sheer feeling of helplessness at seeing your tiny baby strapped up to monitors, with wires and tubes covering their fragile body.
The problem with having twins with one upstairs on the ward and one downstairs in NICU is, you can’t be in two places at once. I didn’t get to go down and see him until the next morning, which made the night feel so long. Not helped by the three hourly wake up calls to feed and pump. I was determined to breastfeed them both but struggled to latch because they were just so small and so very sleepy. We found the best thing to do was for me to sit and pump whilst a health visitor cup fed Willow, then I’d have to run downstairs and take expressed milk for Loxley, to be given to him via a tube. It was exhausting! One feed ran into the next.
If I wanted to go downstairs and see Loxley, I had to take Willow in her cot on wheels down with me as there were just not enough staff to watch her. But I wasn’t allowed to leave the ward without an escort, so I was forever feeling a burden needing to find someone to walk me to the lifts and then down the corridors into NICU and then the same on the way back up. I couldn’t spend any quality time with him because I had to be back up for those three hourly feeds with Willow and for my regimented breakfast, lunch, dinner and medication rounds. I was so torn. I felt I was letting him down when I saw all the other parents by their babies bedsides all day long, and the thought of him down there alone whilst I was with his sister, plagued me.
After a day or two, the guilt of sitting upstairs bonding with Willow and Loxley being downstairs all by himself was just too much, and I just cried to the poor woman collecting my cold apple pie and custard, which I couldn’t stomach through the heartbreak of not sitting by his side. Because of the pandemic, Paul was only allowed to visit the ward for an allotted two hours a day. The visiting time started whilst he was still at work, so we only had a quick ten minutes each day before he was kicked out so he would come to see Willow and I, then sat with Loxley in the evenings. He was still working all day so as not to waste his paternity leave whilst they were in hospital. I knew I would need him more when we took them home so he saved it until we could be back where we belonged and as a family.
The guilt grew and grew, and I was desperate to just be with Loxley so I ended up sacrificing any spare time I had to sleep on travelling up and down in the lifts, just making small talk with staff. I had a preemie baby upstairs, a preemie baby downstairs, three hourly feeds, three hourly pumping and little to no sleep. I was racked with guilt which only grew with the fatigue. The only thing keeping me sane was these two tiny, perfect little beings who were going from strength to strength and showing us everyday how strong they were.
No one ever tells you what to expect with a baby in NICU and no one ever can. Everyone’s experience is so very different but everyone helps everyone. You meet so many other parents and you see the excitement at people taking their babies home and you stand together during the bad times. Even during a global pandemic with everyone in masks and two meters apart, you share something so very special. I wouldn’t recognise any of the other people I met on that ward now, having not seen their faces, but if it wasn’t for them and the incredible staff, who must be so strong and who work tirelessly for them little babies then it would be so much harder. To watch them treat every baby with the same care they would their own, is so beautiful. We never felt like just another family with just another NICU baby, they got to know us and our family, and were as excited as we were to finally walk through them doors after two weeks and pack our incredible bundles into the car and drive home.
I'm Rachel, 35 year old from Leicester currently living in Nottinghamshire with my husband and our one year old twins. I also have an 18 year old boy who is studying engineering at Derby university.
I have been a manager at an insurance company for four years now but after having my twins decided I wanted to start my own business to work around them and also to show them that doing a job you love is possible! I am slowly building up my photography business specialising in breastfeeding photography but also doing motherhood and family shoots.
In the little spare time I have I enjoy volunteering for conservation projects and learning about natural science and hope to go to university in the next few years to be a conservation biologist.
You can find Rachel at: