‘We felt like no one else knew how we felt’ – Nikki’s story

Nikki's gave birth to her twins at 27+5 weeks. She shares how her neonatal experience affected her mental health

The day my partner and I found out I was finally pregnant was one of the most amazing days of our lives. We had undergone ICSI- a form of IVF. It was a long and gruelling process both physically and mentally so when we got the best news we could have wished for, we were ecstatic. Some weeks later we found out that we were actually expecting not one but two bundles of joy - our family would be complete in one swoop!

I’d had a great pregnancy. I loved seeing my bump getting bigger and bigger, no morning sickness, no aches and pains -that was until I was 21+6 weeks pregnant. That morning I was having a lie in and after returning from the toilet I felt my waters burst.

I was alone in the house as my partner, Tony, had gone fishing and I had no close family and friends nearby. I was so scared. I rang the hospital who told me not to worry and to come in when I could. They thought it was probably a false alarm. I rang my mum and Tony in a panic and my mum drove straight to my house.

By the time she arrived, it was very obvious that my waters had broken. An ambulance arrived and took me to hospital where they confirmed the worst and took me to the delivery suite, expecting me to go into labour and deliver my twin babies who wouldn’t be able to be saved once they were born.

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After a few days, they moved me onto a ward as I hadn’t gone into labour. They gave me steroid injections for the twins’ lungs to develop, put me on a course of antibiotics to fight any infection and monitored me every four hours with weekly scans.

I managed to keep the twins tucked inside me for a further six weeks. Those six weeks on the ward were hard. I had my own room and found my way of coping was to isolate myself from family and friends. I took up adult colouring, the health care assistants taught me how to crochet and I spent the long days watching programmes or sleeping.

Before this episode in my life, I could never have imagined myself not seeing my family during this difficult time as I was so close to my mum, but the only person I let in was Tony. I was too afraid of the infection risk that came with visitors so I simply cut everyone off. I relied solely on Tony who would visit me every day and on the kind healthcare professional who cared for me.

On 12 December I found that the umbilical cord from Twin One was hanging out after using the toilet - I had a cord prolapse. When the midwife arrived her reaction let me know this was very serious. I was rushed up to delivery on all fours on a hospital bed with a team of shouting midwives around me. An emergency c-section was carried out under general anaesthetic. I was 27+5 weeks gestation - they were here much too early.

I don’t remember much of that day. It was far from what I’d imagined. I drifted in and out of consciousness for most of the day, looking for news about my babies whenever I woke. I found out I had delivered a boy and a girl. We named them Jack and Isabelle.

Tony was allowed to see Jack but they were still working on Isabelle. We knew Isabelle would be very poorly as it was her waters that had gone all those weeks ago. Tony eventually got to see her and took photos for me - they looked like little baby birds with wires and tubes coming from every part of their bodies. I eventually saw them that evening but wasn’t able to hold them - they were so tiny that they almost didn’t seem real.

Jack spent the next eight weeks at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and Isabelle spent 11 weeks there. Jack pretty much sailed through his journey, but Isabelle had some tough times including a Grade 3 bleed to the brain and following this, hydrocephalus. She had a lumber puncture at only a few weeks old to relieve the pressure in her brain. We were told she could, and probably would, have disabilities to some degree.

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During this time, my partner and I were each other’s support. We spoke to one another all the time about our feelings, we lifted the other up when they were feeling down and cried on one another’s shoulders. We felt like no one else knew how we felt. That being said, we coped in very different ways.

I coped by getting through one day at a time. Looking back I was still numb and in shock and just focused on routine to get me through. I wasn’t at all interested in anything that was going on in other people’s lives outside of the unit. When I reflect on this it shocks me as I am always interested in how others are; especially my family and friends.

In February, we got to bring the twins home. Some might think that was the best day ever but honestly, it wasn’t. I was glad to get them home, to put an end to daily visits to the hospital and to finally be able to sit on my own couch or bed cuddling them. But I was also so frightened. I was now at home all day on my own with twins that had only really recently began to breathe on their own and come off all of their equipment.

For the first few months I cried every day and I wanted my mum over most days to help me. I was too scared to be on my own with the twins. I guess to the outside world I was still able to put on my happy face but my partner and my parents knew I was a mess.

Tony had simply wanted to get home and continue as a family - to be normal and get on with life. It was then frustrating for him to have me crying every day and having his mother-in-law basically living with us. He went back to work a week after the twins got home and of course, I did not. It caused some friction between us but I think he eventually saw where I was coming from.

I didn’t seek any help during this time. I kept on a positive front to family and friends and even though we had a fantastic health visitor I didn’t tell her how I was feeling either. Now I think I probably had an element of PTSD. I should have sought professional help during this time and I urge others to do this if they can resonate with my experience.

I slowly got more confident with the twins’ care. They grew and became stronger and I spent more and more time on my own with them.

The twins will be three in December. They are both happy and healthy with no long-lasting conditions that we know of. They truly are our miracle babies and I could not imagine my life without them. It may all be over, but I have a feeling the NICU journey will stay with us the rest of our lives

Did you find this story helpful? Listen to Nikki talk more about her experience in our podcast – NICU, SCBU and you. You can also find more information and support on this page, including how you might be feeling, what support you can find and how to support someone else.

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