Unspoken Conversations are the topics that are often swept under the carpet, whispered amongst the closest of friends and bitched about by many. I want to create awareness about difficult things that people face in life; grief, mental health, money, illnesses, family troubles, relationship difficulties and putting yourself first. I want to tell the truth about things that really matter.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Double the Trouble but Twice as Much Love - Premature Twins

Hi my name is Amanda Hall and I live in a small country town (Cummins SA) and have done so for most of my life.

I was born here, did all my schooling, had a one year exchange to Peru when I was 15, came home and finished year 12 then went off to Adelaide to live and study for 3 years to become a registered nurse. I came back to work in Port Lincoln in 1994 and married my husband Greg (another Cummins local) in 1996.

We had always planned to have children, in fact ‘the plan’ was to have 4 children; two close together then a gap and then another two close together. It pays not to count your chickens before they hatch though, as this ‘plan’ soon fell to bits.

We had decided to wait a couple of years before trying to start a family, as we wanted to enjoy some time together as newly weds and build a strong relationship as a foundation. In August 1998, Greg and I were very excited to learn that we were expecting a baby. I knew I was pregnant very early as I could feel changes within my body and after a week or so of keeping the info to myself a simple wee on a stick from the chemist confirmed it. A strong pink line appeared within seconds! I decided not to visit the Doctor for confirmation for a while as everything seemed to be going smoothly.

At 14 weeks I finally went to see our local GP. I had experienced no morning sickness and felt amazing. He did all the usual tests and yes confirmed that I was pregnant. He then felt my stomach and said that my uterus was much bigger than I should be for my dates. He told me that I had either gotten my dates wrong or it was a multiple birth and we needed an ultrasound to check asap. I absolutely KNEW my dates were right so it only left one option. Our ultrasound was booked for the following week, so Greg and I talked of nothing else for those next few days and mentally prepared ourselves for what the sonographer may say. At this stage we told only our parents and they were all very excited but also scared for us.

The day of the ultrasound came and basically as soon as the sonographer popped the wand onto my stomach she said ‘can you see that?’ She then pointed and said ‘there is one head, and there is another’. She went on to say both babies were healthy and growing well. The rest of the day passed in an absolute blur. Neither Greg nor I could concentrate on anything, and even though we had so many jobs to do in Port Lincoln we couldn’t think straight. In the end we decided to just go home and start telling everyone to make it more real.

We told our parents first and it was met with a mixed reaction. There were tears, excitement and lots of  “I can’t believe it”. I then rang my best friend, who was pregnant at the same time, who kept repeating ‘NO! no no no’. (Thinking back now she was probably just relieved it was us and not her!)

It seemed that Greg and I were almost alone in thinking it was good, although overwhelming news. In retrospect maybe we were just being naive! I will admit that neither Greg nor I were ever upset, disappointed or cried about this. It was more a ‘wow, I can’t believe it’ type of feeling. It’s quite surreal to be told that you have two babies in your belly! Once the initial shock wore off, it was fun telling everyone and we all got used to the idea that we would be bringing two little babies home from the hospital in a few months time.

My pregnancy went well. I was feeling very fit and healthy, with no morning sickness at all. The babies were growing bigger and stronger everyday.  We decided not to find out the genders as we both wanted a surprise at the birth (obviously the twin news surprise was not enough!) I was having regular check ups and ultrasound checks with no real issues.

At my 28 week GP visit I mentioned some upper right epi-gastric pain. It wasn’t really worrying me but was more a dull, constant ache. Apart from this I was feeling absolutely fine. He immediately took bloods, checked my BP and tested my urine. Later that day I received a phone call from him stating that I needed to go to Adelaide immediately as my tests were indicating a form of pre-eclampsia / hypertension (high blood pressure during pregnancy). 

This was absolutely terrifying to go from feeling like there was nothing wrong, to suddenly being told you had a medical issue that if left untreated potentially either you or the babies  (or all) could die from.

Greg and I quickly packed our suitcases and hopped on a plane. I was admitted to the special care section in the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital and was told that I had HELLP syndrome. This is a form of pre-eclampsia and the letters HELLP derive from 3 main features of the syndrome. Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelet count. I was told that I would be hospitalised until the babies had been delivered and would have daily blood tests and urine collection tests.

I was also shown the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) which was a very traumatic experience as I had never seen babies so small with such a tenuous hold on life before. 

It was hard to think that my babies would be born early with so many issues and may not even make it home at all.

Our days in hospital passed very slowly as I wasn’t allowed to do much at all. Week 28 passed, then 29, 30 and 31. Each day was a huge achievement as it felt like a step further away from those tiny premmies and towards stronger, healthier babies.

At 31 weeks and 4 days, the nurse came in to do a routine set of observations and my BP had spiked.

 After a few further tests, the urine was also showing protein and my liver tests were deteriorating. They told me that I would have to have the babies by Cesarean within 24 hours.

 Greg flew over to be with me. After 3 weeks of hospitalisation, on the 26th of March 1999 my identical twin girls were born.

 Despite it being a very frightening time, and things not going right with the spinal anaesthetic, it was such a relief to see two screaming babies being lifted up, out of me, and born into this world.

 Georgia Grace and Kelsey Rose had arrived in this world. 

Incidentally weighing exactly the same : 3lb 5 oz. which apparently is quite rare even for identical twins.

The relief was short lived as the girls both had problems after being born 8 weeks early. 

They were both ventilated for some time. It was discovered that Georgia had PDA (hole in the heart) which luckily closed over with treatment within a week. 

They had episodes when they forgot to breathe as their respiratory centres were so immature. They were connected to many monitors and tubes and battled a hospital acquired infection. We also had a lot of issues with feeding and reflux which never really resolved.

I stayed with my Grandparents at this time, commuting every day to the hospital to sit by their humidicribs for hours and hours. I was there from early morning until late at night. I felt (stupidly) that if I took my eyes off them, then they would deteriorate.

 If there was a problem late at night, I felt like it was my fault for not being there for them. Looking back now I wondered how I coped as I really felt alone, and operating on auto pilot. I was an emotional wreck; only just holding it together for appearances. 

The time that we spent in NICU has most definitely left a scar on me. I still cry if I see anything about premmies or neonatal intensive care on TV. Years later we visited the unit and I found it very emotionally confronting; bringing back all of those feelings and memories. It’s that kind of place that you don’t forget easily.

our first hold a week after birth

As the weeks passed though, the tubes reduced, the monitors were removed, they put on weight very slowly and the problems that were once a daily list got shorter and shorter. 

Finally after 8 weeks there was talk about coming home to Cummins! We were discharged on the 20th of May which was our original due date. After 7 weeks at the Women's and Children's, we were finally going HOME!!

on our last day at the hospital

The girls were still much smaller than a normal newborn (size 0000 were huge on them) so we were very careful to limit contact with others. For the first two months I stayed at home, knowing that their immune system was fragile. Little by little as they got stronger we started going out more and more.

Having twins didn’t really seem like twice the work of one baby; although at the time I didn’t have that experience to compare it to. I only appreciated how hard things were 5 years later when I had another baby, Piper. By comparison everything with a single baby seemed much simpler. 

I have the utmost respect for those who have had twins after a singleton birth… looking after a toddler with newborn twins would be a huge challenge. I am very glad I did not have other little people to look after.

Reflecting back on those newborn months the time seems a little bit hazy. There were things that needed to be done and we just did it. Luckily Georgia and Kelsey were great sleepers, (and still are) so the majority of the time we felt sane even if we were just putting one foot in front of the other to get through the day. Greg was an incredible help with feeding, and lent a hand where ever he could. I had great support from both of my parents and also Greg’s. I will never forget the kindness of some people in the community who cooked meals and stocked up my freezer during those tricky first months. Little things people did to help were wonderful and very much appreciated.

As with most new parents, you just muddle through the days, where you know if you have had a good day if you manage to get out of your PJs.  Before we knew it we were celebrating their first birthdays. My girls were strong, big, healthy and growing. With the exception of ear infections, tonsillitis and other normal childhood issues, they have both been very healthy and I feel so grateful for that, particularly after such a rough start to life.

There are so many special twin moments that bring a smile to my face.

  • When they were premmies still in hospital their heartbeats would match on the monitor when placed together in the same cot.

  • How they would curl up, foetal like in those first few days wrapping themselves towards each other.

  • At about 4 months when they could see each other and would stare fascinated, and then would both suddenly be in fits of giggles.

  • Taking forever to get them both ready to go out, frustratingly packing everything but the kitchen sink in the car, battling with the twin pusher in the shops and all it took was one person gooing and gaaing over them to make it all worthwhile.

  •  Them getting sick at the same time with non contagious illnesses – weird!

  • All the naughty twin mischief that they did together.

  •  Wanting to dress the same as toddlers, then differently and now we are back to sharing clothes again!!

As they have grown it has been incredible to see how different their personalities are. Yes there is one dominant, one who is more confident, one who has a shorter fuse, one who is more helpful and considerate, one who is right handed, and the other who is left, one who is has a calm, reserved personality and the other is outgoing and loud. 

Greg and I have always tried to encourage these differences and their uniqueness. We try not to refer to them as ‘the twins’ but call them by their names or use the term ‘the girls’.

Yesterday Georgia and Kelsey turned 14.  It’s so hard to believe my babies are all grown up! I know we have a long road of teenage years ahead of us, and there is so many more challenges in store for us on this twin journey, but I feel very blessed to have these two girls in my life and am grateful to have been their mum.

photo: Georgie Daniels Photography


Tanya said...

An amazing journey Amanda. I totally understand the comment about watching tv shows with NICU and even the visiting again. A journey that makes you stronger however I continually am grateful that we only spent a short while in their care. Such wonderful doctors & midwives. Ross H is an amazing man.

Natalie said...

What an incredible story Amanda - it is such a pleasure to have you, Greg and your three beautiful girls as part of our circle of friends - I was totally blown away recently with how incredible you both are as parents and how great G&K are - well balanced and happy teens. You should be very very proud of your girls - and of yourselves.xxxx