To enjoy the best thing in my life, I had to endure the worst.
Becoming a dad is the most rewarding and satisfying thing I’ve ever done – but it didn’t always feel that way.
For several long, arduous weeks, my twin sons’ lives hung in the balance. This is the story of how they were born 13 weeks early, and how it immediately affected me.
“This is a heartbeat… and this is a second heartbeat”
I’ll try, but I don’t think words can describe this moment. The moment of relief that I found out our baby was indeed alive and well… and the total shock that so was its hitherto unknown sibling.
“Fuck off!”Me on finding out I was to become a dad of twins
Yep, that’s what I said to the sonographer performing the scan.
It was very early doors – only five weeks into the pregnancy – when my wife felt some discomfort and was sent for a scan as a precaution.
Needless to say, the presence of a heartbeat (nothing more than a tiny white flicker on the screen) soon gave way to the utter disbelief that there was another one beside it.
Expletives unleashed, I shook my head in astonishment while Mrs. MacDonald flooded the room with tears of shock.
And this was only the beginning of the craziest rollercoaster ride of my life…
The labour: a bolt from the blue
The last video on my wife’s phone before the boys were born features me excitedly tearing wallpaper from the second bedroom of our house.
Shortly afterward, I muttered something to the effect of: “I’m glad that’s done, now we have three months to get it painted and decorated”.
Turns out we only had about 12 hours.
Having spent the day decluttering the room of all the junk a spare room tends to accumulate, we went out for a well-earned pub tea. A couple of courses and pints (soft drinks for my now blooming wife) later, we headed home and to bed.
We’d barely been asleep an hour when Mrs. MacDonald went to the bathroom, and dashed back in which roused me from my sleep. The concern on her face told me something was wrong, but when she said she thought her waters had broken, I was incredulous.
We phoned the hospital for advice, and that’s just about the time all hell broke loose. Contractions started as I was instructed to pack a bag (hello, what should I pack? Where do you keep these items? Do you need a magazine? OKAY SORRY I THOUGHT YOU MIGHT WANT A MAGAZINE) and before we knew it, I was driving us to the maternity ward.
Bleary-eyed, wearing tracksuit bottoms over a pair of pyjama shorts, I was so out of sorts that I took the most bizarre and longwinded route to the hospital, all the while telling my wife to stop being so dramatic with these “contractions” which definitely weren’t contractions even though it turns out they actually were contractions.
Rushed into a room, my wife was checked over as a doctor told us that our local hospital wasn’t equipped to look after twins born earlier than 28 weeks. The initial plan was for an injection to be given that would delay or prolong the labour, but it was soon evident it was too late.
Onto plan B: we’d be transferred out of town with the twins in utero, and they’d be born elsewhere.
A new problem; the labour was advancing quickly. Very quickly. Too quickly for us to go anywhere else. Those babies were coming now, and nobody or nothing could stop them.
The birth: a surreal experience
Just five hours after that bathroom visit at home, I watched aghast at the sheer number of nurses, midwives, doctors and specialists swarming around the delivery room. At any one time, there were 20+ people tending to my wife, preparing for the births, setting up two minuscule tables on which two tiny humans would soon be worked.
And then there was me. Telling her everything would be okay… even though I didn’t know if it would. In fact, I feared it wouldn’t.
Our sons were born 50 minutes apart, both placed on my wife for a matter of seconds before managing faint cries and then being instantly whisked to a table, where they were intubated and whisked off to the neonatal ward to be hooked up to ventilators and kept in incubators.
It was difficult to understand the emotions I went through. I cried when both boys cried. Tears of joy that I had two sons, delight that they were alive… but perhaps tears of anxiety or trauma that there was a mountain – possibly an insurmountable one – ahead of them.
Each weighing just 2lb 6oz, it was hard to comprehend how such a tiny being could be so fully formed. But it was also hard to believe they’d ever make it through, such was their vulnerability.
The immediate aftermath
My head was still spinning as the room gradually emptied. My wife had to go into theatre after the birth following a slight complication during the delivery, and all of a sudden I was alone.
Alone with my thoughts.
In the very room where I’d just witnessed my children being born in the most traumatic circumstances. Now, I sat in silence. The floor was dotted with blood and strewn with medical packaging and supplies.
A nurse popped in to give me a cup of weak tea – simultaneously the worst and best cuppa I’ve ever had. Now early morning, I nibbled at some anemic toast and contemplated how I’d explain to my parents that they’d unwittingly woken up as grandparents.
When I phoned, mum cried, dad asked if it was April Fool’s Day again.
Meanwhile, the boys were now wrapped in plastic bags as lines were put into their umbilical cords, and they were prepared to be transferred to a specialist hospital – the Jessop Wing in Sheffield.
I was told by a nurse I could touch them, but they looked so frail and brittle that I was scared of injuring them. In the end, I opted to lightly place my finger in their tiny palms before they were loaded into an ambulance each and transported away.
My wife would follow in an ambulance, while I went home, still in a state of shock, to pack some clothes and make the journey by car.
By that evening, we were in Sheffield, taking in our first impressions of a neonatal ward.
The journey ahead
The following hours, days, weeks and months is a story for another time. In fact, it’s many stories.
Ups, downs, highs and lows. This experience had them all in abundance.
Fairly early into our hospital stay, the thought crossed my mind of documenting the journey through writing. The idea remained lodged in my ever-jumbling brain, until February 2020 when I finally summoned the energy and bravery to put my thoughts and feelings together.
The resultant piece was published on The Huffington Post: Traumatic Births Can Be Hard For Dads Too. We Need To Talk About It.
I hesitated, worried people would judge me. I needn’t have been afraid.
The outpouring of support and messages of thanks swept me away. Not just from ever-supportive friends and family, but from complete strangers who’d gone through the same or similar experiences.
And that was enough for me to want to write more. To help others.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not a psychiatrist or a shrink. I’m certainly no parenting expert.
I’m just a guy who went through what felt like hell… but came out on the other side.
Now I’m sharing my story, bit by bit. And I’ll also share resources, advice and tips for people going through similar situations.