As I entered the neonatal unit on December 12 2015 for the first time, I was numb.
My children – Isabelle and Jack – had just been born at 27+5 weeks and the sense of urgency within the room was clear. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff crowded around them, performing all the necessary tests to gage what was going on within their tiny bodies.
I just wanted to do something to help – anything at all – but I was helpless and stood back as X-Rays were taken and lines were fed in to get vital medicines into them.
My mind was focussed purely on them but I was forgetting someone just as important – my partner.
On November 1 at just 21+6 weeks pregnant the waters to the bottom baby (Isabelle) ruptured and she was rushed into hospital and placed on a ward.
Everybody expected her to give birth to two still born babies within hours but somehow she defied huge odds and kept them safe inside for almost 6 weeks – a time when doctors could step in and try to save them.
At 9.15am on December 12 everything was fine but by 9.35am she had delivered. A cord prolapse on the ward led to a full scale medical emergency. Rushed to theatre by a huge team, she was given a general anaesthetic and the twins were delivered.
Once she came round, I can only imagine the pain she was in after such a traumatic ordeal.
But there I was, thinking only of the twins and somehow unable to grasp on to her pain.
Looking back I feel full of guilt that I didn’t spend more time with her on the day of their birth, instead flitting between the neonatal unit and recovery.
In truth my mind was in pieces – there was no logical thought process going on but as the days progressed we both began to get hold of our emotions a little and take stock of the situation.
For me, it was all about concentrating on getting these little miracles well and out of hospital.
In the background, my partner was struggling with the physical and mental effects of the ordeal and in hindsight, I didn’t pay enough attention to that. All I needed to do was give her a hug, go for a drink in the café away from the immediate chaos or something to take her mind elsewhere for five minutes every now and then.
Once the twins were home in late February, I hoped we could start normal family life. I went back to work and my partner was at home on maternity leave. Having been surrounded by monitors giving us every medical stat in an instant, it was a frightening prospect having to go it alone without the technology, but I didn’t realise just how terrifying it was for her being home alone.
At times she struggled and seemed on the edge mentally. I felt more mentally intact but then again, I was back at work, getting normality back – she was doing anything other than getting normality.
Her mum would be a regular visitor and that support helped but a little friction built with my annoyance that the mother-in-law to be was almost living with us. She was a great help and did absolutely nothing wrong but I wanted it to be our family home.
Again, in hindsight I realise she needed that support and sure enough within a few months she was standing on her own two feet and going it alone during the day.
I guess what my story maybe shows is that men just aren’t fully in touch with their partners after a premature birth. Yes, we all feel the emotional side but men don’t feel or experience the physical trauma and that understandably leaves memories that are hard to banish.
There’s also the guilt that mothers can feel. The feeling that their bodies let their babies down. We all know that isn’t the case and that nature just handed out one of its harshest cards but it’s something that us men have to try and get our heads around.
If I was to speak to myself back then I would say ‘take a bullet’ more often. On days when she said things that maybe sounded irrational to me, go with it and genuinely take her points on board.
Whenever she needed a little support, try and put it in place where possible. Whether that is by having the odd day of leave from work, getting a relative or friend over or looking for a group where she could liaise with other mums.
It’s not easy being the dad of a premature baby, but I think we have to remember that mum has been through the mill in many other ways and they deserve just as much love and attention as our precious little ones.
With special thanks for to Tony for sharing his story.
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