Why is this story so hard to tell? Probably because aside from A, I don’t think anyone knows it in full. Bits n pieces sure, but I think I’ve also packed bits of it away, even in my own head. Bits I didn’t really want to have to face again so soon. Bits I knew I’d have to peel back the band aid on to write this piece if I wanted to do it honestly.
Self preservation? Avoidance? I don’t know…
If you’ve been following along our family’s journey, you’ll know its been helluva a mixed bag. After 5 years of infertility (we very nearly didn’t make it), carrying up to 36 weeks 5 days (pregnancy itself went pretty well, actually) and then #TheAndersonTwins’s birth story (summary: it went not so well awfully.) And as promised I wanted to share a bit of our first days…
Nothing prepares you.
You’ve heard everyone’s horror stories – and they usually end with “but its totally worth it…” One or two of your close friends have probably given you the down low. You have your favourite mommy blogs. Read aaaaaall the books you want. Download those podcasts. Go to therapy. Sign up for the alla classes. You. Will. Never. Be. Ready. And yeah, the twin factor added (ok doubled!) the stress….
What. A. Wow.
What I didn’t realise at the time we spent 20 days in hospital with the birth, was that that help was inadvertently *the* best care the babies would ever have. Around the clock care by highly trained medical professionals whose job was a calling. Someone dedicated to them 24/7. Someone who scheduled/logged every single feed (down to the last ml), poop and diaper change (down to the exact minute) but also someone who loved to do it & had done it gazillion times over, making it look like the breeze it wasn’t…
Who needs help anyway?!
My paed (who I adore and I’m going to try not say that everytime I talk about him!) kept asking A & I almost daily over the 20 days I was in hospital what our “home care plan” was. We kept saying “We’re going to see how it goes”. And I’ll never forget the look of utter disbelief & horror on his face as I said that and A & I looked at each other in major confusion. What did he meaaaaaan?! The plan was that I would be home. We had a lady who came to clean our home twice a week so we’d continue with that & I’d do the rest – all the baby stuff and all the other running-the-house-and-our-lives stuff. I was home based so… we were sorted!
As my paed kept pressing on this topic (in 20/20 hindsight, thank you Dr!) I had to concede that I wasn’t feeling well at all with all the complications and that maybe a bit of help wouldn’t hurt at the beginning while we got settled in at home. He introduced us to a lady at the hospital who was a qualified paramedic & had worked as a nanny before, including for a special needs newborn, so he strongly recommended her. I had no doubt she’d be good at the job but we didn’t really “gel” & I couldn’t see this person living in our home. We decided we’d use a company offering adhoc night nurses that came recommended by the hospital instead. We also had a family member who’d moved in so we had that buffer of extra hands if we needed it – or so we thought…
Breast is best right?
As things started to get better and I got ready to move from NICU to the maternity ward, I was finally able to start thinking about “normal” things like skin to skin & breastfeeding. We were off to a late start. I’d probably given birth almost two weeks ago by this time. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The window to start breastfeeding was pretty much closed but I wanted to try… In then end it was major teamwork between A (bless him, because wowowowowow, this guy!), I and a laction consultant. I’m going to dedicate a post to a breastfeeding journey because its a long story, but one I want and need to tell. Know this: breastfeeding twins ain’t a joke.
We started our 4th trimester at the hospital but all I really wanted to do was get the hell out of there & go home. I just wanted to be with my babies, our family – just us. I wanted to be home. I missed my bed, I missed Emma & I yearned the mundane normalcy of it all.
I ran the checklist over in my head. Car seats, check. Going home outfits, check (the ones I’d originally planned were now far too small so we just went with whatever – I didn’t care). Birth certificates, medication, Dr’s scripts (just in case), follow up paed appointments, check, check. I’d placed an online Woolies order the day before to be delivered to the house so we could be restocked and not forced to leave just for food. I’d asked our domestic worker to come in for the next few days (it wasn’t her scheduled days) just to have extra hands available. We climbed through a heap of paperwork, packed up all our stuff (we’d properly moved into hospital by now) and three weeks into their little lives we f-i-n-a-l-l-y we got out!
We fumbled in the parking lot folding the pram up and getting the seats to click into the bases (who designed these things?!) but we were out of there and on our way. A drove my old Volvo home up Braam Fisher in peak traffic ever so s-l-o-w-l-y & more cautiously than he’s ever driven while I was wedged in between two car seats at the back. Suddenly my F1 driver husband was going at 60, indicating all over the place, checking his blindspot and even letting taxis pass. He was concentrating so hard. It was cute. As we drove home and everyone else was going about their regular Tuesday afternoon business I looked at their little scrunched up pink faces and reminded myself to savour this moment…
On the first night we wheeled their cots into our room, patting ourselves on the back for splurging on the fancy cots on wheels. One cot on either side of our bed. I took Mish. A took Amir. And so we lay there all night, back to back & staring at them the dark. We jumped at every tiny murmur to check if everything was ok and that they were still breathing, often by cellphone light so we didn’t wake the other one up. When one started screaming, we’d fumble to rush them out of our room to change/feed/burp/try our luck with anything that would buy us some silence, really. They played tag team that whole night. By the morning, we were a sheer mess, not even a half an hours sleep between us! A had to leave for work and I got to do it all over again during the day. We never ever brought their cots into our room again. Also, we needed help divine intervention.
We quickly got into the routine of feeding, burping, changing diapers, bathing and generally not knowing what the fuck we were doing. We list these things so casually but none of these things are intuitive in any way. In the end all it comes down to trying the fathom why the heck they’re screaming at any given time and going through all the possible solutions via a process of elimination.
“Well she’s not hungry/wet/dirty” we agreed but were actually semi asking each other as we peered into Mishy’s cot in the unGodly hours of one morning as she was screaming so loud that her face was blood red, her voice sounded like it was going to break down & it appeared that I could see down her throat & inside her belly. Meanwhile I praying nervously in my head that she wouldn’t wake up her Amir laying a few meters away. And in that moment I’m thinking to myself… we’re two averagely smart individuals. Two university degrees. Book smart. Street smart. Old enough. Level headed. Practical. Resourced… but we couldn’t figure this tiny person out so she would stop crying. And so we got to learning about colic… but I’ll park that topic for another post…
Those very early days were full of runs to Baby City & Dischem. No sooner would I get home from dragging the three of us out to the closest strip mall (this took major coordination, planning & effort!) than I’d get home & realise I actually needed something else as well. I know you mamas will agree when I say we need shares in these retailers! Shares and some or other app that can deliver anything and everything from multiple stores simultaneously & instantly (not within in hour & definitely not the next day because have you heard Misha scream) & to my front door bedside table and also not at a premium, thanks!
We were home less than a month and A started saying that he didn’t think Mish looked right. While he couldn’t really put his finger on it exactly, I was unsure and thought he was probably just overreacting. We were due to see the pead imminently anyway for our standard post discharge follow up so I pulled it forward a few days to appease him. That Friday, we’d hardly sat down and before he’d even examined her, the paed told us that he was admitting her because breathing was laboured and that’s as major it gets for their age. I was shook. How did miss this? He examined her anyway, asking us how Amir was (we’d left him at home), telling us to keep a close eye on him. We left straight from his practice to the hospital and began the paperwork for her admission. A plethora of tests got underway. She had RSV. While it wasn’t uncommon, especially for babies born in Winter, it was potentially fatal but completely treatable.
Not even 24 hours later we started to have similar worries about Amir. It was Saturday night, so straight to the emergency room. I so desperately wanted our paed to be there but at least another Dr from his practice was on call at the hospital. After a consult we ran a battery of tests & he was admitted for RSV too. The paediatric ward was full and there literally wasn’t a bed for him so the paed (bless her) suggested a creative solution: that I room with them at hospital (vs. them going into the paed ward) then at least we’d all be together & we’d have a comfy private room. To her surprise, I declined. I couldn’t bring myself to overnight after the ordeal their birth. After that last 20 day stint in hospital I vowed I would never ever be hospitalised again. PTSD is real, y’all.
And so started the daily up & down between the hospital and home (around 15km one way). On the upside the hospital didn’t really have strict visiting hours for parents – you could pretty much come & go as you pleased except to just give the nurses some space when it came to the twice daily shift change. So I’d wake up, pump, pack whatever the twins were running short of at hospital, stuff breakfast down my throat (most often in the car driving there), pump again, hit the road the to the hospital with their expressed milk & supplies in tow (hoping to make it in time for the next feed). At the hospital I’d check in with my babies (secretly hoping they weren’t sleeping), get the milk labelled, logged & into the freezer (there’s whole system) & collect more empty bottles for the next drop off. I’d be there for the afternoon, get an update from the nurse on duty since my last visit on their progress & hope for any notes the Dr left from his rounds. I’d just hang around, talking to them, reading to them… In between it was feeds (i.e. when they weren’t tube fed which was particularly heartbreaking to watch but often the breathing got so hard sucking was impossible), diaper changes, physio, play and lots of video calls with dad in between his meetings. I’d head home, pump there again once, ideally twice more & meet A at the hospital early evening on his way home from work & drop off more milk. We’d have supper at occasionally at home, but more often at the hospital coffee shop & when we just couldn’t bring ourselves to eat more of their food sometimes we’d quickly run out to eat somewhere nearby on the same block or just get UberEats to the hospital. It was a long, draining two weeks – physically and mentally that just totally emptied me out.
When it rains it friggin’ pours
The twins were in the last few days of their two week hospitalisation for RSV. After getting my hopes up for news of a discharge almost daily from the from around day 3/4 they were there, they were now in final observation and coming home on the weekend. Its Thursday afternoon and I’m not feeling so good myself, but I know they’re seriously on the mend and I’d been to the hospital that morning so I tell A I’m going to skip meeting him at the hospital that afternoon but that he should still go check on them as per usual en route home. I was going to sleep off whatever this weird thing was I was feeling & then we’d go see the twins again together in the evening.
Except, I can’t sleep… I have what feels like a stitch in my side, where my ribs are (kinda like when you’re unfit and suddenly take up running) but it won’t pass. It hurts to sit, it hurts to lay down, it hurts to b-r-e-a-t-h-e. and its searing. I can’t sleep because that unconscious movement when you breathe in & your chest swells with air… oh my God that hurts… so I stayed in bed. But I also can’t move around because that hurts as well. My breathing is shallow & audible. I can’t change the side I’m laying on because moving is too sore. I try not to drink too much water so I don’t need to get up for the loo. I try to keep everything I need at my bedside so I can keep pumping on schedule but it’s too eina to sit up & manouvre the pump & bra on even with A’s help. We fight about me not wanting to go see to the ER that night (I don’t know why I’m like this either!?!) so I reluctantly agree that I’ll compromise & agree to see our GP in the morning.
So its Friday & Murphy’s law, my own GP’s not in so I see a different one who runs some tests, gives me a script for some meds (I just really want something for the pain pleeeeease I tell him!) and says he’ll call with next steps when the results are in. I climb back into bed for the day and wonder when the heck these meds are going to kick in because wooooooow. That night, my grimacing wakes A up – he’s now pretty gatvol of my “I-said-I’m-never-ever-going-back-to-hospital-and-you-can’t-make-me” attitude. I ask him take me to the ER because I can’t anymore…
It’s now the early hours of Saturday morning. The hospital has a new & shiny ER unit. I wonder what this experience would be like not a private in hospital in the centre of Sandton – the things you think about while you’re waiting… I announce I’m going to check on the twins while we kill time but A shoots me a look so I stay put & soon enough there’s a free bed. They check my vitals, put me on oxygen & hook me to a drip for pain meds. More tests. I need to stay put until they get the tests back in an hour they say. I know from experience that in reality this is more like 2 hours but whatamignado? Waiting is soul destroying and your mind goes to the weirdest of places but wait I do.
The tests turn up nothing and I’m feeling pretty glib but I hold back on the “I told you so” because I’m trying to be an adult and stuff. *wipes brow that I averted a hospital admission*. They give me (better, or so they said) pain meds but it doesn’t subside. I tell myself that the meds are working but I just need to sabr. It’s Monday. I’m annoyed that the twins still haven’t been discharged and I’m getting ready to make my routine trip to the hospital when they call me. In my mind they’re to say I can come get my babies & I counldn’t wait to say “I’m already on my way!”. Instead they I hear “…some of your test results only came in this morning (because there’s some we couldn’t process because of the weekend) we need to you to come back to the hospital for more tests & observation. Now. It looks like you have pneumonia”. I’m really annoyed. I didn’t even know there were any tests results outstanding so I tell them them I’m on my way to the hospital now anyway to see the twins so I’ll pop in. “Observation” well shem if they think I’m going to let myself be admitted. The Dr on call gives me her name and tells me to come straight to her when I get there.
X rays. More tests. At this point in time I’m asking myself what test have I not done? We have to wait an hour to get the test results back. Mentally I’m rolling my eyes because I know this drill. “Imma go grab coffee & a bite & go see my babies upstairs” I inform the Dr & start disconnecting myself from the machines. Much to my surprise she very calmly & slowly says no. It feels like A & her are in cahoots except he’s never met this particular Dr and he’s at work – I’ve been dutifully updating him on the phone. She tells me that if I choose to leave the hospital bed I’ll need to sign a document that its against her advice and that if anything were to happen to me, it would be entirely at my own risk. Well okayyyyyyy. This sounds serious. I’m grumpy, but I stay put.
The x rays show up a pulmonary embalism -i.e. clots in my lungs, the cause of which varies but in my case was most likely as a result of pregnancy & c section complications. Clots can carry (i.e. move) in the body and is fatal in around 1 in 6 to 1 in 8 (13% to 17%) of cases. I’m admitted on the spot.
How did my life even get here?
And so I lost the fight of re admission to hospital. Straight to NICU. I really, really couldn’t believe my life was back in that NICU ward. I saw the confusion and pity on some of the NICU nurses faces who I recognised from my last stay as I checked into bed number 4 and peered over to my old bed, bed number 11. “You’re back?!” they’d say. I quickly tired of telling the story and just defaulted to “yeah long story”. I don’t know if this round in ICU was better because it was my second or because I knew some the nurses & had my favourites or because I went in with no expectations of getting out of there asap or because I knew the twins were just 1 floor away but it was better, much better than the first time. Maybe it was knowing that I wouldn’t be needing dialysis like last time because that, I couldn’t handle again. After three days I graduated to the general ward (hallelujah!) which meant I was now sharing a room with one just one other lady. I kept my curtains closed around my bed 100% of the time. I was in no mood to chat and fortunately neither was she.
Because I didn’t have enough going on, my tummy started running. Awesome. I let the nurse know & obviously they needed a sample to test. Peeing in a jar I had down to a T but pooing in a jar – where is the manual for that ish (pun fully intended!). I deliver the sample & not 10 minutes later the nurse is at my bed. They need a runnier sample. You can’t make this stuff up. I get back into bed to wait so I can “produce” this required sample and then suddenly I need to go. I decide not to buzz for a nurse but to get her myself because it feels like I’m feeling um, pressed & as I find her in the corridor & start explaining, I feel a slow, warm sensation running down my legs, onto my slippers and onto the corridor floor. I look down and her eyes follow mine & I’m so, so embarassed. Unphased and like a pro she swiftly moves me into my to my room and straight into the shower, quickly scooping up said sample from my leg. And while the water’s running I hear her calling a cleaning crew to clean up the passage. In 15 minutes I’m back in bed, fresh PJ’s like nothing happened. Nurses are very, very special human beings.
God alone knows what the results came back to say but within an hour of producing sample number 2 I was quickly whisked away to a private hospital room because I needed to be isolated. Some bacteria blah blah I don’t remember – I told myself to look at the upside: I now had a spacious private room & my own bathroom. Silver linings indeed.
The downside of whatever was now going on with me and had me moved into isolation was that they didn’t want me seeing the babies ‘just in case” and that really was the worst part of it all. I was sick and their immune systems were already compromised. I get it, but wow. Ironically my plush private room made me feel super disconnected from everything and everyone and I lived for the moments anyone would come through that door and let the buzz of the hospital in even for a few seconds. Mostly it was just nurses bringing medication & coming to check my vitals. Sometimes it was food or the cleaning staff. But really, the only people I wanted it to be was the Dr (being the only person with the power to discharge me) or A. I had series with me A had downloaded on his iPad, magazines, books, blog posts to write but my head wasn’t having any of that. I kept pumping – it somehow made me feel like I was doing something productive to help my babies recovery since I couldn’t physically be there even though I was just meters from them. Pumping, wondering what the twins were doing & staring at the ceiling- that’s all I did all damn day in that awkward, uncomfortable bed with those polycotton sheets.
Drs never ever make any firm promises about when you can go home. Its all dependent on how you’re doing, how far your on the the course of meds (especially, say antibiotics) your vitals, symptoms and test results. This makes sense. I gerrit. They must do what they must do. But I also knew it all too well. My pain had subsided to a bearable level and I felt I could function. I would just rest it out at home instead of at hospital. So I was ready & prepped to fib when that Dr came through my door that day. Diarrhoea? Oh no, much better, practically gone. Pain? Muuuuuch better. Feeling good? Yup like 7, 8 out of 10. (Let’s not over do it Wisaal, we need to be convincing!). I stopped myself from offering to do some cartwheels in my bed when she paused in a moments hesitation… But there was a major caveat in all this. The best treatment option to dissolve clots in the lungs required a 3 month course of medication which was not breastfeeding friendly. Fine. No kid died because they had to be on formula. I also wasn’t allowed to fly anywhere longer than two hours without my Drs permission (the altitude can trigger the clots). She gave me a script and the discharge paperwork & I went to get my babies who were good to go home for the last day or two already, just waiting for Mama to come get them. I was getting my family the fuck out of there.
I got home and washed the hospital off me and (re)settled into our routine as a family for the second time, but that wasn’t to be…
When does this all end?!
The paed wanted to see the twins around a week after discharge. Cool. Standard. We report to his rooms dutifully exactly a week later. He tells me Mish’s RSV has regressed & he’s readmitting her. I’m absolutely defeated. I just listen quietly. How much more?! Maybe he sees my eyes glass over, I don’t know. He calls in another paed, a more senior one, for a second opinion as if to set me at ease – but I trust him implicitly so he needn’t have done that. They huddle & discuss over Mish in a corner of the room in hushed tones occasionally glancing over at me and come back and tell me she has to be admitted to be safe. I ain’t arguing. I’m just tired. Grateful for medical aid & tired.
At this point I’m just on auto pilot. I’m going through the motions and I know these motions oh so well. If I had to sit down, think & feel I probably wouldn’t get anything done. But there’s a new angle to manage – having one baby at homed one in the hospital & living between the two. Giving Amir enough attention and watching him closely so he doesn’t slip back too. Spending enough time with Mishy so she’s not all alone in the hospital.
I watched A try to do the aerobics being a new dad himself, helping me get well & having to manage a high pressured job after just having been away for a month. Fighting off business travel requests so he could at least stay in Jhb. He snuck me meals at the hospital and when I was discharged had food delivered at home while he was at the office so I could eat & keep my strength up. He managed all the medical aid and gap cover admin. He told me to sleep when it was my turn to get up in the middle of the night. He sent flowers. He reminded me to take my meds daily and helped me give the twins theirs. He helped me breastfeed. He created a WhatsApp group and kept my friends updated about how the twins and I were doing. He kept me alive and he had no one to lean on through this whole thing.
Still, I hated my life. “How ungrateful can you be woman? You’re one of the lucky ones Wisaal, you actually got to have your babies. TWO babies..” the guilt of infertility never really leaves you…
Are you there God, it’s me, Wisaal…
Every time we got home from hospital we had to relearn just how to just be. I never felt like we settled in at home, ever. Those early days are a blur. We used night nurses here and there for short term relief and it was a significant help but it gets expensive quickly & as I’d lay in bed, unable to switch off & counting down how many hours to their shift being up of sanity I had left) I knew we needed (more) help. We responded to an ad & after doing all the necessary due diligence Mary started working for us 8am-5pm daily, Monday through Friday and stayed out. No doubt it helped but it wasn’t enough!
Meanwhile the family member who had moved in at the start of the year decided to move back home, so we asked Mary to stay in and she agreed. This wasn’t an easy decision and we’d always maintained that despite having a relatively old but roomy house, we valued our privacy and couldn’t imagine someone in our space 24/7/. Let me tell you this: it’s entirely worth it!
Through no fault of hers, Mary was soon overwhelmed (guys, twins are alaaaht!!!) and we started looking for someone else. We interviewed and trialled new potential nannies on the weekends when Mary was off. And then, entirely by chance we found Gugu *adds music for the heavens to start singing*.
By the end of their first three months the twins had spent more of their precious lives in hospital than at home. That really, really hurt to think of. I was on watch for post partum depression even before I fell pregnant (because I battling major depression already back then and thats the most predisposing factor) which at the time had me rolling my eyes at my team of Drs because they didn’t understand that if I could just have my baby(ies), everything would be p-e-r-f-e-c-t. LOL. “But with everything you’ve been through you couldn’t not have post partum depression Wisaal” says my psychologist weeks on as I’m sitting her couch in Saxonworld, the twins in hospital. It makes sense, but if I’m honest it’s still little comfort. My anti depressant is doubled. It takes weeks to kick in but it does and I slowly feel like I’m not drowning. Like I can do this. Like I want to do this.
So, no, I don’t want the newborn stage back. It’s hard AF. Yes, we had plenty of extra complications. Plus twins. But we also had great medical care. And good resources. And friends who truly, truly cared. People say you forget. What a lol. Forget how? Those few weeks had me take my infertile ass to my gyaene and onto the least foolproof of contraception because noooooooooo!!!
You’ve heard everyone’s horror stories – and they usually end with “but its totally worth it…” One or two of your close friends have probably given you the down low. You have your favourite mommy blogs. Read aaaaaall the books you want. Download those podcasts. Go to therapy (but seriously, go to therapy!). Book the alla classes.