In June 2008 I gave birth to a set of twins at 26 weeks + 6 days by emergency C-section at the JR Hospital in Oxford. They weren’t due until September so this was a big shock.
Immediately after their birth they were placed in incubators and wheeled off to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). My husband went with them and I was stitched up and taken to the recovery unit. Later that day I was taken in a wheelchair to one of the levels with other women whose babies were in SCBU. I was given a photo of each twin as it would be a couple of days before I was well enough to visit them.
I was given my own electric expressing machine which looked like a cross between an old bread maker and a food mixer. I’m not sure to this day why I was given my own machine, the other mothers had to go to a different room and wait in a queue to plug in to an expressing machine. I loved that expressing machine and the fact my milk came immediately despite giving birth so early. I also loved that I could express regularly all by myself and set up a routine of expressing every 3 hours during the day and night. My milk flowed and plenty for twins which also felt like a miracle!
The twins were being given about 1ml of milk per hour through tubes mechanically. Their bodies not really ready for milk. Our daughter Ella Rae was doing well and soon moved out of the high dependency unit but our son, Chris, was very poorly. After about 10 days, that changed dramatically as our daughter’s body started to reject the milk and her intestines began to distend. After several operations to try to improve things she died at 19 days old. There was nothing more to be done to save her.
We weren’t able to hold Chris for a few days as the medics were concerned that the same might happen to him. We took a few days away in Devon and my Mum visited him instead. By this time we had purchased our own double electric breastfeeding pump and I continued to religiously express every 4 hours, taking the milk in to the hospital, labelling it and putting it in the fridge. Chris grew stronger and stronger and the amount of milk he could tolerate increased.
I returned to work on a part time basis and continued to express to keep my milk supply up. Expressing at work took place in the store cupboard with cardboard put up against the glass part of the door and a big ‘Do not disturb’ sign. It wasn’t ideal, but it was adequate.
Premature babies don’t develop their sucking reflex until around 35 weeks and around this time Chris was given a tiny dummy so he could learn to suck. He loved it and it wasn’t long before I was able to start breastfeeding him a few times a day. It was a very special time but nothing was normal. Breastfeeding in SCBU is not very intimate and rather public, but I had to get over that.
Just as Chris turned 40 weeks, weighing about 5lb, we were able to take him home under the care of the SCBU health visitor. The health visitor visited frequently and it soon became evident that Chris wasn’t putting on enough weight. She encouraged me to supplement my milk with formula which I was reluctant to do but felt I didn’t have much choice. Around this time he started projectile vomiting after most feeds. It was so depressing to be feeding and then see all your milk spread across the room. He was also suffering with constipation. By now Chris was 6 months old and one day showed signs of bronchiolitis. The projectile vomiting continued and he was struggling to breathe due to the bronchiolitis. We got admitted to The Horton hospital in Banbury.
As we were used to having him in hospital at the start of his life, we didn’t stay overnight at the Horton, but would just spend the day with him. Therefore, the nurses were doing the feeds during the night. “What is going on?” they said one morning when I visited. “He shouldn’t be projectile vomiting like this!” We were referred to a Dietician who said it could well be down to a dairy intolerance and that would explain the constipation too. We switched his formula to a dairy free one and he was transformed – no more projectile vomiting, no more constipation and the weight gain started. I decided at that time to stop expressing and breastfeeding.
Looking back, we had so much to deal with during the first 6 months of Chris’ life and an unusual breastfeeding journey, it’s actually a bit of a blur. I don’t remember much about my feelings around breastfeeding, my commitment to it or the significance of it. In fact, I think I was more committed to expressing than breastfeeding! I treasure what I remember and was hoping for things to be simpler when I had another baby, but that wasn’t to be simple either. I’ll write that story another day.