Mum-of-three Maria shares her memories of the ‘shock and helplessness’ she felt when her twins Iris and Tom, now six, were born two months early.
We were absolutely elated to find I was pregnant after IVF treatment. I felt well throughout my pregnancy. I had a few extra scans because I was expecting twins but they were both growing well, and there was no cause for concern.
But when I was 29 weeks pregnant, levels of protein in my urine started to rise. I had lots of tests, but nobody seemed that worried, and I felt absolutely fine.
My GP became concerned, though, and at 32 weeks I went to hospital where they found that the level of protein in my blood was 30 times higher than normal. Fetal monitoring showed that Iris was in distress and they told me I would have to have an emergency caesarean. I didn’t realise how serious it was until I heard a doctor on the phone, asking if two incubators were available in the neonatal intensive care unit.
It was a terrible shock; everything had been going fine and then suddenly it wasn’t. My brain was screaming at me, they’re not ready yet, they’re not big enough yet. I felt so responsible for what was to come, and so utterly guilty that my body couldn’t support my babies anymore.
I remember there were around 15 medics in the room, including a full set of medical staff for each baby. Tom came out first, crying. They lifted him up so I could see him. I could feel them rummaging, trying to deliver Iris. There wasn’t a sound, she was not breathing but fortunately the team was able to give her a breathing tube and stabilise her.
I’d been warned that I would not to be able to hold my newborn babies, and that Tom and Iris would spend their first night far away from me in a special care unit in another hospital, but the reality was terribly distressing.
We stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton for a month. Iris weighed 3lb 9oz and Tom weighed 4lb 11oz at birth.
They needed help with feeding and they needed incubators because they couldn’t regulate their temperatures. They also suffered from jaundice. But when they eventually started to breastfeed, it made a pretty awful situation much better. I felt less helpless and more like a mum.
After four weeks we were transferred back to our local hospital and finally, still three weeks before their due date, Tom and Iris were allowed home.
They are now six years old but the potentially devastating impact of pre-eclampsia, and the feelings of shock and helplessness that accompanied Iris and Tom’s premature birth, still haunt me.
If an answer can be found as to why pre-eclampsia occurs in some pregnancies and a way of preventing it can be found, so many families could be saved from the shock of having a baby or babies delivered early and mums’ and babies’ lives could be saved. Premature babies face such a difficult start in life and unfortunately many are faced with life-long difficulties.
World Prematurity Day falls on 17 November. You can read more about Iris and Tom here.