[This is Lucia at nearly one month old. She is holding the top of my finger with her whole hand. Gives you an idea of just how tiny she was]
As soon as I got to the hospital Dr Sarah was waiting for me and did an ultrasound straight away. Because I have had SO many ultrasounds as soon as I saw it I knew something was wrong. Twin 2 had a massive amount of fluid around her. This is called polyhydramnios. Twin 1’s fluid was deteriorating around her and this is called oligohydramnios. Immediately I knew this was Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. This was the day our girls got their first names of Polly and Olly. All the nurses and Dr’s referred to them as this.
Thankfully Saxon arrived at the hospital and Sarah explained to us how serious this was and that I would not be going home until the babies were born. The plan was to try and keep them baking until 28-29 weeks and then get them out. I was given steroids to try and develop their lungs and plenty of drugs to stop my contractions, which just knocked me out until they wore off and the next wave of contractions started again.
I was monitored very closely I was not allowed to get out of bed unless it was to use the bathroom. I was moved to a room later that night with one other lady in there.
On Friday 11/11/11 it was decided I would have regular ultrasounds as well as constant heart monitoring of the babies. This was extremely frustrating as it was very difficult for the nurses to get an accurate trace on the babies hearts. What would happen is they would get one of the twins and then the other one would kick the trace off.
So, up to ultrasound I went and the fluid had not increased around Polly nor had it decreased around Olly. We were still sitting at Stage One twin to twin transfusion syndrome which made me feel a lot better. Basically if it gets to Stage three you have a matter of hours before you will lose one or both of the babies.
Some twins can sit at stage two or three comfortably for a few weeks. Stage one was good, they were both active even though I couldn’t really feel Polly too much. It was comforting to know we were very well looked after.
I was given a second shot of steroids and it wouldn’t be worthwhile unless I could keep the babies in till 5.30pm on Saturday. I was determined to keep them in until 28 weeks as I knew that was a very magic number.
Saxon came in for a visit with our lovely nanny who brought my baby girl, Indiana in to see me. It was lovely but sad at the same time because I missed my little people so much.
On the weekend of 12th/13th November I was moved every time I had contractions back up to the delivery ward, given more drugs, waited for them to settle, checked the babies hearts were okay and then moved again to my room in maternity. To be honest I was really getting over it. I was so happy that I made it to Saturday 5.30 pm as that meant the babies were now steroid covered.
I received visits from my beautiful friends at Sara Lee who gave me chocolate and real tea to drink so I was comfortable.
On Saturday afternoon I complained that I wasn’t feeling Olly (Twin 1 – Charlize) moving very much. This worried me as she had limited fluid around her and I should be able to feel her. The nurses didn’t seem concerned.
On Sunday early evening something changed, my uterus became very irritated and I was contracting every 2 mins from about 7pm through to 3am. I was completely exhausted and very emotional. I still wasn’t dilating so this was a good sign. More drugs and trying to get some sleep. Sleep really was impossible especially with the dreaded feeling of worry. I knew how I had to have a good instinct for change as it could save my babies lives.
So after an exhausting evening, I was finally moved back to maternity around 5am Monday morning and I managed to have a bit of a rest. I was suprised at 8.30am when Saxon came in for a visit. Of course he used me for an excuse to get out of work … Just after he arrived a porter arrived to take me down to ultrasound.
Whilst waiting in ultrasound I received a phone call from my dear friend Melanie. We were chatting away and I promised to call her back after the ultrasound…..well that call never happened. Later that day she sent me a text saying “now I know why you didn’t call me back”.
I was lucky enough on this particular day to not only have Saxon by my side but a Professor from Randwick Women’s Hospital was visiting Royal North Shore and my obstetrician (Sarah) and the ultrasound technician asked her to look at the ultrasound.
I noticed they all looked quite serious and were going over and over one of the babies heart. I remember asking her a question and she snapped at me and told me she needed quiet. I actually nearly burst into tears.
The ultrasound took well over an hour. Then we were put in a small room and asked to wait for them. I heard Sarah call the NICU and ask them how many beds they had available. I heard the Professor calling her boss. I turned to Saxon and said “I think we are having our babies today”
Sarah and the Professor finally came back into the room. They explained that the twins now had Stage 3 Twin to twin transfusion syndrome and that Polly’s heart (twin 2) was not beating as it should due to the excessive strain being caused on it.
In basic terms Twin 1 transfers a massive amount of blood and fluid through the placenta to Twin 2. This is why twin 2 has lots of fluid around her and twin 1’s keeps reducing. This then affects urine output, kidney function and of course heart function. Twin 2 is usually the twin that does not survive if this progresses any further. But it can equally kill both babies.
They were considering transferring me to Randwick to do laser surgery and try and keep the babies in longer but because I was over 26 weeks (I was now 27 weeks plus 1 day) it was too dangerous and both babies could be lost if this process is attempted at this gestation. My heart feel to the floor.
They decided the safest thing to do was an emergency c-section as soon as possible.
Although we were kind of expecting this I was still in shock. My hands started shaking and I started getting teary. Thankfully Saxon was there to hold my hand.
I was moved to the delivery ward whilst we waited for a theatre to become available. There is a protocol when having such premature babies that the theatre adjacent to the NICU has to be used so we had to wait for that to be emptied and prepped for us.
Meanwhile my room turned into a circus. At one stage I had four staff attempting to find our babies heartbeats. It was imperative that they were monitored in case twin 2 went into distress. They actually gave up trying as they kept picking up mine and one of the babies kept kicking it off. I think they were a bit tired of being poked and prodded. The room filled with all sorts of drs and nurses. We called both our parents and told them that the babies would arrive soon.
I was then asked to walk across the hallway to the theatre to have my epidural put it. On my way down the corridor I walked past Dr Mary (the head Neonatologist) who was briefing the NICU team for the twins arrival. There was one Dr and three nurses for each baby. I heard Mary telling them how fragile the babies were. I had two obstetricians who each had an assistant and in total there was approximately 25 people in the room.
I was sitting on the bed waiting for the Dr to put my epidural in. I could still hear Mary briefing her team when I just broke down and started sobbing. I felt really sorry for the Dr putting the needle in my back but the emotions just flowed. I had this amazing nurse who got me to do some visualisation and calmed me down. Within moments I couldn’t feel anything and then finally Saxon arrived and was at my side again wiping my tears away.
Both Orlando and Indiana were born by c-section. Orlando’s was an emergency (that was actually a planned c/s until he decided to arrive early) and Indiana’s was elective. Both times the atmosphere was different but in here it was like you couldn’t breathe. The room was thick with anticipation as no-one really knew how the twins were going to be.
On the 14th November at 3.24pm the Dr pulled out twin 1, she gave a tiny squeal before she was ventilated. If you weren’t paying attention you wouldn’t have heard it. But I remember it clearly. I knew the twins would be tiny but wow she was so very small and perfect. She was quickly whisked to the resuscitation table and then all I saw was Dr Mary giving orders and her team trying to keep my little baby alive.
At 3.25pm one and a half minutes after her sister arrived, twin 2 was pulled out with a splash. The amount of fluid around her when her sac was broken actually flooded the floor and ruined the drs shoes. This tiny little person let out a much louder squeal. She actually sounded like a kitten and really was as small as a kitten. She was whisked to the next resuscitation table.
Then what seemed like hours we waited and waited some more. Our girls were given surfactant which was to help their lungs. They were wrapped in plastic to keep them warm. They were ventilated as they were unable to breathe on their own. Charlize was given a blood transfusion as she was severely anaemic. They were given life saving interventions whilst we waited and watched.
Finally a nurse came over and told us they were fragile but looking good. They both breathed on their own at birth which was already a miracle. I asked what sex they were. Of course no one had checked because the main thing to do is keep them breathing when they are this little. She asked me to guess whilst she went to check.
I said girls and yes she came back with a huge smile, we had little girls. And so it was that Twin 1 became Charlize Ersilia Stephens and Twin 2 became Lucia Vera Stephens.
The girls were whisked next door into the NICU and the team finished sewing me up and moved me and Saxon together into a room in delivery.
We were so excited that we had two little girls. Identical girls. How fun it would be to dress them up the same and trick people with their identity because they were so alike. We were going to go home and be a family of six with Orlando being a wonderful big brother to three little sisters all under the age of 18 months …. wow!! I needed a cup of tea. Even though it was hospital tea it tasted amazing.
Saxon and I had decided a few days earlier that we didn’t want to risk infection with the girls so we wouldn’t take any family or friends into the NICU until the girls were stronger. It would only be us with them.
I was wheeled in to see my lovely girls a few hours later when they stabilised them both. I was wheeled up next to Lucia’s humidicrib and Charlize was on the other side of her. Lucia was wearing the coolest sunnies as she was under the special lights due to her having severe jaundice. She was so red in colour due to the amount of blood transferred in-utero. At one stage they were considering draining some of her blood to reduce the stress on her heart but she managed to sort herself out on her own. I got to see Charlize briefly as they were still doing things to her. When she was born her head was bent in an awkward shape because of my tiny pelvis and so they found it difficult to put her ventilator tube in. It took a little while but she straightened her neck out on her own. She was very pale as she didn’t have the required amount of blood which was why she had a transfusion. But our girls were gorgeous. I was only with them a short time as I started feeling very unwell after the surgery.
My Mum and Dad and brother and sister arrived and were so very excited about our new arrivals. I felt bad that they couldn’t see them but we wanted to protect the girls until they were a bit stronger.
Hindsight’s a great thing isn’t it? If I had my time over again I’d let my family go in and meet our girls together side by side in the NICU and have photos with them, lots of photos….. and be smiling and happy that our girls were here with us. But we do what is right for us at the time.
We said goodbye to my family and Saxon also went home. I was taken to a private room in maternity and I went to sleep dreaming of my beautiful precious baby girls and how lucky I was to have had twins and have four beautiful children.