In her 38th month on this planet my daughter has finally succumbed to potty training. She joins her twin brother in enjoying life out of ‘baby nappies’ and is thoroughly relishing her Big Girl Pants.
When she and her brother were born they were ten weeks early and had micro preemie nappies like the one shown below on the right.
We had no idea at the start if they would ever make it into the next size up, of course we never dared discuss it, but the dread that they might not make it through the next infection, or that if their heart rates plummeted for the twentieth time that day that it might not make that slow increase back up again after a vigorous shake of the incubator…too many heart in throat moments..too many machines…too warm…too many beeps and never, ever did you hear a baby cry in in neonatal intensive care, they were too sick to cry.
I remember when I first met them. They had been born at lunchtime on Wednesday and I wasn’t allowed round to see them all that day. My husband tried to show me some photos on his phone but I couldn’t make anything out. He had a printed photo that had been given to him by a neonatal nurse, a 6 x 4 photo split into the same image shown four times so although very difficult to see it was my first chance to look at one of my children. My son.
The camera ran out of battery before they could take the photo of my daughter. I took assurances from my husband that they were doing well. He seemed excited, he was a Dad, he’d seen them and they were real and they were alive.
I lay there and felt like I was in a dream. I didn’t feel like a mother. I didn’t feel numb as such, just weirdly normal. I felt like I could walk out of the hospital and pretend I had never had children. I joked that I could be a surrogate mother, I felt utterly emotionless. I was quite cheery in fact. I chatted away to the mums on my ward who had their babies with them. They looked exhausted. Part of me felt relieved to be just left to recover. I have a clear memory of a thought that if they brought my babies to me at that moment that I would rather climb out the window.
I was a mother, I had children, but I didn’t feel it.
I didn’t sleep much that night, turning over the last few days in my head. Three days earlier I had been feeling on top of the world with a few annoying period-type cramps, and now here I was lying in a ward, listening to other people’s babies crying and I was just existing, not feeling, just being.
At around 2am a nurse came to my bed to check on me.
“Auch love, I thought I saw you lying here awake. I know you don’t have any photos of the babbies because that camera wasn’t working. Well here now, you sit up love, look what I have for you.”
She pressed two photos into my hands and switched on my bedside light.
I was so touched by this act. It was the first time in the last 24 hours that I had felt an actual human connection. I felt like a real person. I scoured those photos, looking at my babies. I examined them for clues, for familiar outlines, shapes, my crooked toes…and I loved them…and it still felt like looking at scan photos…exciting but not really real yet.
My Mum had kindly bought me Congratulations cards for the babies. It was my proof of my right to be on that maternity ward. Instead of pointing to babies I could point to my cards and say “Yes, I have twins..a boy and a girl”. I carefully placed my photos beside each card and a drifted off to sleep still staring at them.
The next day I had to wait until late in the afternoon before I finally saw them. I was so excited.
When I was wheeled in the NICU I was immediately overwhelmed with information about the status of two very sick babies, I couldn’t even see which isolettes they were in…my heart lurching as I looked as someone else’s baby…”is this my baby?”…”No, these are yours here…”
Finally I met them.
I couldn’t see their faces clearly because of the CPAP masks, soon their whole heads would be covered while they spent many days under bilirubin lamps…I longed to see those faces.
Two weeks later I would get to hold them for the first time. I would be starting to feel like a real mum then.
Eight weeks later they came home.
One of the first things I did was look at myself in the mirror holding my babies. There are no mirrors in the hospital, I had no idea what I looked like as a Mum.
Small things are big things.
One thousand one hundred and seventy days later I sit here writing this.
My babies are leaving toddlerhood and nappies behind.
I don’t know when the moment was that I truly felt like their Mum, it sneaked up on me. I know that they are the best thing that ever happened to me. They unlocked a part of me that I didn’t know existed. They are strong and healthy and loved. They have given me more than I will ever give them.