Ready for an elfie!
a couple An early delivery in Carly of plastic carriers gave a memorable Christmas…
Santa’s little shockers
More knackered than the elastic on Santa’s undies, I sank into bed.
‘Merry Christmas, darling,’ I yawned to my boyfriend, Gareth, 28.
It was the dying embers of Christmas Day 2014, but we’d hardly had a chance for season’s greetings. Only together since November 2013, we still had separate Crimbos. We were both devoted to our families, and nothing could keep me from my 73-year-old nan Margaret’s perfectly crispy roasties!
So, me and Gareth would get up, swap pressies and head to separate celebrations. Then, when Christmas Day finally wrapped up, we’d come together like Band Aid.
We’d been making sweet music since meeting at the secondary school where we both worked. I was an art teacher, while Gareth taught PE. But, the first time we spoke, it was all chemistry!
As winter thawed to spring in 2015, though, it turned out there was more than a turkey in the oven. We’d vaguely talked about wanting children some day but, when a pair of lines popped up on the test strip, we were floored.
It was completely unplanned, unexpected and brilliant!
I went for my first scan.
‘Oh, OK, there’s one,’ the sonographer said, running the probe over my stomach. ‘And there’s another one.’
Gareth burst into happy, stunned laughter.
My heart sank.
Shaking slightly, I felt tears prick my eyes. Twins?!
My mum’s cousin had a matching pair, but it’d never occurred I’d be landed with double helpings. Yet there they were on the screen. Two babies – nine weeks gone already. How would I cope?
Over the next few hours, though, my shock turned to delight.
Finding out we were having a boy and a girl was the icing on our surprise cake!
‘Gethin,’ we quickly agreed for our little boy, but choosing a girl’s name was more difficult.
Gareth had a huge family full of girls – Bronwen, Seren, Ffion, Anwen – all the best strong, Welsh names were taken. ‘We’ve got plenty of time,’ we agreed.
My due date in October seemed so far off, but try telling my bulging stomach that! By 8 July, my backache took my breath away as I taught a class.
I was 24 weeks exactly – the legal cut-off for a termination in England – but had a huge bump that was leaving my back on fire!
Dealing with teenagers could be a pain, all right, but this brought tears to my eyes. It was so bad that at break time, I was sent home.
Alison, 42, came round and pointed towards my bump. ‘I think you need the hospital,’ she gasped. My stomach was moving in a strange way.
Tensing. Almost like… contractions.
‘You’re in labour,’
a doctor at Wrexham Maelor Hospital told me. I was four months early! I was rushed to a delivery room and, after a frantic dash from work, Gareth – flanked by a swarm of nurses – burst in into the room.
‘It’s like the babies waited for me,’ he smiled weakly, squeezing my hand.
About 20 specialists crowded round. I was told the babies would be so premature, they had just a 15 per cent chance of survival each. But I forced the terror to the back of my mind. My babies needed me calm. Everyone waited tensely as I pushed our daughter into the world. Born still in the amniotic sac, which is incredibly rare and thought to be really lucky, a deafening silence clung to the room as my tiny daughter emerged. After what felt like a lifetime, the sac was broken and she spluttered out a cry.
‘She’s an Amelia,’ I realised, relief flooding me.
And our Amelia was alive. I caught a glimpse of her wriggling body before she was hurried away.
Just 10 minutes on, Amelia’s brother was born. Smaller, he weighed just 1lb 5oz to his sister’s 1lb 6oz. He was quieter and stiller. But alive.
It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that me and Gareth got taken to the neonatal intensive care unit for our first proper look at the twins.
I’d imagined meeting our children would be an excited game of spotting our features – who had whose chin, eyes or forehead – but, peering into their incubators, all I felt was shock.
‘They don’t even look like babies,’ I whispered to Gareth.
Cocooned in a tiny plastic bag each, they looked like someone’s undercooked chicken dinner.
Each baby was a jumble of bones under transparent, tissue-paper skin.
As the babies weren’t able to regulate their temperatures, the bags were used to keep them warm.
Beneath, though, you could see every thread-thin wire bursting from their bodies.
We were rushed to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for more specialist care and put up in free hospital accommodation, thanks to the Ronald Mcdonald House Charities. It meant we never left the twins’ side, apart from to sleep.
Even then we were woken by a phone in our room if there was an emergency. And there were so many. Both babies contracted sepsis, while Gethin suffered a bleed on the brain and collapsed lung, and Amelia had to be resuscitated after a valve that was not closing properly made her heart rate plummet.
Gradually, the twins began to stabilise.
They were moved into an incubator side by side. Just knowing the other was there seemed to calm them as they endured receiving oxygen, interventions and tests.
At seven weeks, we finally got in on the cuddles.
Carefully manoeuvring the wires hooking them up to their ventilators, I took each of my tiny babies in turn and held them against me. They were still little more than a handful, but feeling their heartbeats against my skin was a dream come true. In the September, Amelia needed surgery to save her sight as she was days from going blind. Finally, just a week before Christmas, we brought our babies home.
Gethin was still on oxygen and both children were still fragile as glass baubles, but we were finally able to begin life as a family of four. Although they didn’t know 25 December from any other day, we showered them with toys. Then, dressed up in tiny novelty Babygros, we took them to my nan’s. ‘You’ll be eating these soon enough,’ I laughed, piling more potatoes on my plate. I even raised a glass of Buck’s fizz.
The twins are now three and, save for both being short-sighted, have no lasting health issues from their early arrival. They’re thought to be some of the earliest twins ever to have survived.
Not that you’d know it. They speak English and Welsh, run me ragged and are the happiest, most perfect pair. Gethin is a proper little boy, obsessed with cars and motorbikes. Amelia is small but fearsome – she is definitely the boss of this family. And a family we are. The twins have tied me and Gareth together for ever, like a bow, and we’re due to get married in 2020. There will be presents piled high under the Christmas tree this year, but our twins are the best presents ever – and delivered in record time.
Looking at them, all I felt was shock
The twins on their first Christmas Now, you wouldn’t believe how early they came into the world