Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Thank you for making us, us.

Sometimes in life, something happens that is genuinely momentous and life changing. Some people are fortunate enough to experience these events and I am one of them. More than that, it's happened to me more than once.

Sorry, I should actually say it's happened to us. As I write this tonight, Siggy and I have just celebrated being parents for the last sixteen years and it has been quite an experience. Nothing changes you more than becoming a parent and in our case, the twins turning sixteen has been something of a catharsis. Having your eldest children "officially" become adults - even if only in the eyes of the law, the lottery and the licencing board - is a time for reflection and, on reflection, that really is a cause for celebration. I don't mind telling you that I've had tears in my eyes on more than one occasion today and I'm not alone in that, although I'm not sure Siggy will admit that to anyone.

Sixteen years ago, things were very different and so were we.

Monday 27th May 1996 was a bank holiday and, like today, it was warm and dry. I was 29 weeks pregnant and frankly completely niave. I had woken up not feeling too well and had terrible, terrible back pain, which I just put down to being so heavily pregnant and having slept poorly. Anyone reading this who has been through labour will probably know exactly what I didn't at the time. I was not only in labour, I was in the fairly advance stages of labour.

On phoning the hospital, the fantastic Rottenrow Maternity in Glasgow, now sadly demolished, we were only mildly concerned when they suggested that we "just come in whenever you can and we'll check you out." I went for a bath, to see if that would ease the pain a bit and because one of the midwifes had suggested it might help, and with no great rush, we drove in just after lunchtime, fully expecting to be told I was fine, maybe having a bit of Braxton-Hicks and just to put my feet up and relax. On arrival and being taken through to the examination room, we found ourselves in what felt like a parallel universe, an out-of-body experience, a surreal dream and living nightmare all rolled into one.

I was told, in a calm, professional and efficient yet reassuring voice that I was 6cm dilated and in advanced labour. They told me they would need to give me some steroids immediately and some other drugs to try to slow down or preferably stop the labour. We didn't realise on that warm afternoon in the cool and clinical walls of the hospital, but outside the room all hell was breaking loose with on-call consultants, specialist nursing staff and various others were being alerted to the fact that they were about to have twins born very prematurely.

Siggy says that he had the experience of travelling at a thousand miles an hour inside his head whilst the world outside had basically stopped except for whatever was going on in the walls of the room, which we soon realised was not just an examination room, but a labour suite. I became aware that the bed was very uncomfortable and remember thinking that I'd need to ask for a change of bed if they were going to keep me in once they had stopped this labour, which, at that point, was what we genuinely expected to happen.

After a few hours, during which I began to feel as if I, and the labour, had stabilised a bit and I was in a bit less pain, Siggy and I talked about a lot of things we had talked about before -  what would we call them, what might the labour be like, how would we arrange things on a day-to-day basis, etc - but suddenly these things were all about to be real and somehow the situation still seemed absolutely unreal. Siggy had gone out and called both sets of parents to say I was in hospital "just as a precaution" and might need to stay the night. Now, he's not even sure if he managed to speak to both sets of parents until quite a bit later in the day and certainly didn't say in the first calls that I was actually in labour. There was a reason for that, though. As well as me being in labour, we were both in denial. We were so out of touch with the reality of the situation that Siggy even began to talk about how I could just stay in hospital for the next ten weeks and he would just come in and visit every night on the way home until they decided it would be OK to let me go into labour again. God, we were like kids ourselves, even though we had been married for nearly four years and were both in our late 20's. 

As the day progressed and the doctors and nurses had began to explain more and more to us, including why I had needed steroids (to help inflate the babies lungs) and how they hoped to stop the labour for as long as possible as they could give give me another does of steroids 24 hours later "to help give the babies a chance".

"Give them a chance" Four words that hit us like a train between the eyes.

Unless you have been through it, it is really difficult to explain what it is like to realise that your child could very possibly die. A million and two feelings and emotions course through you at the same time. Fear. Anger. Guilt. Fear. Pain. Questions. Puzzlement. Wonder. Fear.

Fear, though, didn't turn out to be the worst feeling - the seeds of helplessness had been sown and nothing, absolutely nothing, we could do would stop that awful, paralysing and disorienting emotion taking hold. 

By around 11pm, following goodness how many calls to anxious parents and one or two stunned friends, mainly to give Siggy something to do when he left the room every so often to just change the background for both of us, the staff were fairly confident that they had managed to stop my labour and they suggested that Siggy should go home and get some rest before he could come in tomorrow with some nightclothes and other bits and pieces for me as I was going to be in for a while whilst they  kept me under observation. Siggy, reluctant, scared and tired, eventually went home around half past midnight, leaving me to stare at the ceiling and will my unborn children to just keep fighting to stay where they were and grow as big and strong as possible in my safe keeping.

As a young girl who wasn't "properly" a mother yet, confused by these sudden and unexpected developments and with the pain of a previous miscarriage thirteen months earlier still feeling fresh, something inside was unconsciously, but very powerfully, turned on. Call it what you will, but somehow during those dark, frightening hours of the night, I came to understand what being a mother meant. What I didn't know at the time and have only found out now, sixteen years later and through the sweet tears of a painful but shared and incredibly binding experience, is that in those same dark hours, five miles away in our safe and secure home, Siggy also felt some strange surge of that powerful new force coming to fruition. That force was what comes with the realisation that everything has changed and nothing is more important in your life than loving and protecting that most precious of gifts - a child.

As the darkness passed, five miles from where I had awoken to an awful feeling of foreboding and some not inconsiderable pain, the phone rang just as Siggy was getting out of the shower. He had got up sharp so he could nip in with a bag of clothes and toiletries for me on his way to work, believing genuinely that this was the start of weeks of me being kept under observation and the twins being made to wait to make their big entrance. Siggy says that as soon as he heard the first ring, he knew. He knew that it wasn't going to be weeks of observation while I held on to my precious cargo or even days of uncertainty over whether I might even get home. As he picked up the receiver with one hand, his other hand was already reaching out physically for my bag, but emotionally for my heart and, somehow - spiritually? - for our beautiful, unborn children. He says that he knew in that split second that he was going to need to be strong enough for four of us for the rest of our lives, however long that may have been in the hours to come.

"Don't break any speed limits to get in, but get here as quickly as you can.Your wife has gone back into labour and we probably wont be able to stop her again"

Speed limits were, undoubtedly, broken.

Siggy arrived in the hospital just after 7am and for the next few hours I strained every single fibre of my being to try not to give birth. I had had an epdirual, but they weren't sure it would have time to take effect. I, obviously, went nowhere, but at one point, probably just after 9am, Siggy left the room to use the toilet and, he although he didn't tell me at the time, the scene that he stumbled across in the corridor has stayed with him until this day. Around the nurses station, there were lots of staff gathered around and it was only much later that he realised every one of them had stopped talking and turned to look as he came out of the labour suite. Every one of them, he later knew, had been gathered for the arrival of our twins.

At some point, just as the contractions were becoming unbearable and I was trying to listen to the midwife and Siggy at the same time but actually not hearing a word of what they were saying, Siggy says there were 19 people in the room - 21 if you counted the two children jostling for position at the top of the birth canal. We, stupidly in hindsight, thought this was the way births happened, but it was so far from the normal process in a modern birthing suite that it was more like an overblown piece of Hollywood fiction with everything but the dramatic soundtrack, unless you count the hums and beeps of fetal and maternal heart monitors, the low drone of half-whispered half-conversations and the far away but undeniably clear hubbub of "normal" life passing by in the corridor outside or drifting in in through the open windows along with the warm morning sunlight.   

At 1038, in a magical moment where time stood still before an explosion of activity from all the gathered staff, Peter was born. 3lb 6oz of terrifyingly silent and worryingly unmoving childhood. I was shown him only very briefly before he was put into a transportable incubator and all manner of tubes and wires were attached. Siggy, torn almost literally in half as he tried to keep hold of my uncontrollably shaking hand whilst at the same time trying to reach out to his struggling, tiny son at the other side of the room, also only had a very quick chance to look upon his face before he was whisked off to intensive care with almost half of the staff in the room.  

The room seemed eerily silent and half empty as I lay, panting and staring at the ceiling with tears of dulled physical pain but penetratingly deep and searingly hot emotional turmoil and anguish. In reality, there were still around a dozen or so people in the room and next thing I knew I was being told to push again as contraction after contraction shook my already weary but determined body once more. 

At 1053, in yet another life-altering moment, Gordon made his entrance into the world at a whole 1oz more than his brother but with the same quiet, tiny and helpless demeanour which neither of us could understand but both of us knew was was going to bind us forever. Siggy, this time, went over and peered in the incubator for a little longer before Gordon, too was taken from us and the whole room was suddenly and cruelly silent. 

"He looks perfect. Absolutely beautiful." Siggy half-sobbed to me as we held onto each other for dear life. Never before, and honestly only twice since, have we been as completely and perfectly one. Terrified but determined, each of us swore to always be there for each other and for them, although I'm pretty sure neither of us actually said so. We didn't have to.

Some time later, in some sort of a daze, I delivered the shared placenta and my part, physically, was over for the day. I went into the most uncontrollable shivering through physical and mental shock and time stopped to exist. 

Siggy left the room and went to check on Peter and Gordon. I don't know how long he was gone and he has no idea either. He tells me that the ICU, on that first visit, was an alien and strange world of half-light, beeps, alarms, whispers and shadowy figures of both nursing staff and numbed parents staring into the various incubators around the room.

When he came back, though, Siggy had two polaroid photos, one of each of the boys and those were the most precious things in my life for that moment. It is impossible in some ways to explain, but the very real and very present threat of your child, whether hours old or years old, being close to death is the most lonely feeling in the world. Lonely, even though it was the most intimate and undeniably shared experience we have ever had.

Siggy told me they were both ventilated and in incubators with heart monitors and fingertip blood saturation monitors on. These things were just clinical mumbo jumbo to us that day but over time we became incredibly familiar with all. Siggy, control freak and knowledge-sponge that he was, read charts like an expert in time and we learned everything we ever need to know over the weeks that followed.

All that first day, though, I didn't get to actually see my beautiful, tiny boys and I'm sure that my heart broke time and time again throughout the day. I was moved back to the ward and time passed in a chemical- and love-induced haze that still manged to allow the waves of pain to permeate through the strange forcefield that had settled around me. Proud new grandparents came in full of the joys and left, still proud but confused and uncertain of the future as Siggy explained what had happened and what we had been told, the whole time looking for all the world like he wanted to split himself in two and leave one part with me and one part with the boys in ICU.

36 hours after having given birth, I was taken down to ICU in a wheelchair and for the first time got to gaze upon the wonders that I had brought into the world. I cried every single piece of me out in the unit in the few precious moments I had with them.

In the early days, every hour counted - "the first 12 hours are vital", "If they make it through 24 hours, we can consider the next steps", "72 hours in we will have some idea of their chances." At the same time, we were being given updated "odds" on their progress; "They probably have a 30percent chance of surviving" was possibly the worst moment of the first couple of hours, that changed after a week or so to "40/60, but there may be some lasting effects," until we eventually reached what was becoming the holy grail, firstly "it's probably 50/50 that they'll get through ok" and later "they're definitely more like 60/40 chances now." Fear of tempting fate meant that we stopped asking any more then. 

I stayed in hospital for ten solid days whilst Siggy ran around between work, home and the hospital day after day and then we had a further 41 days of commuting to and fro before the boys were finally allowed home. In that time, they put on around 2lbs each and had countless transfusions, tests and scares. In Gordon's case, he basically died twice when he had stopped breathing and  Peter, not to be outdone, had terrified us when a scan had shown asymmetrical brain growth and a degree of fluid where fluid shouldn't be.

On one unforgettable day, Siggy was called in from his work when Gordon had stopped breathing for some considerable time and staff had been "working on him" for what seemed an eternity. Speed limits were again, doubtlessly, broken.

Even on the day we were due to bring them them home, Peter caused a scare by turning blue and he - and I as I had been rooming in again overnight - had to ensure one more night in hospital before our lives together could start, properly. Maybe, just maybe, we knew all along as his name actually means "fair warrior".   

Life has a way, though, of paying you back and Peter and Gordon are now both 6'3" rugby players who have barely had a day sick since. they will try anything, do anything and with the slightest smile, light up our world. they also light up a lot of other worlds, most of them female. Siggy, six years after they were born, had just changed jobs and one of his first cases was to help out the registrar who had twice saved Gordon's life. He helped him get a fair bit of backpay, but could never repay the fantastic gift that he, and all the other Rottenrow staff gave us.

As you all may know, they never put us off and their two brothers had their own fair share of drama when they came into the world, but thankfully not quite as dramatic as the twins and not requiring so long in hospital. Those stories though, can wait for their birthdays. 

Siggy and I had been together for eleven years when the boys were born, but on this fantastic - and of course in our house chaotic - day, I just want to thank Peter and Gordon and Donald and Scott for just making us, us.  

We love you. Always. 

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