"In the hospital they have some papers they want me to sign. They are explaining what the papers mean.
- Just give me the pen, I say."
Writer and performer Joanna Howard's second pregnancy was a little different. In a comic, warts-and-all piece she shares her story of surviving twins...
Jo Howard used to teach modern languages and now works as a producer in a videography company, Viva la Zoom, which she runs with her husband. For many years she has performed as an Edith Piaf impersonator, playing at the Edinburgh Festival and featuring on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She is a writer of poetry, songs, short stories and creative non-fiction. Jo’s work is inspired by her life experiences and she loves recreating the vernacular of her native Manchester. Jo runs an open mic night in Manchester called Verbose and is a regular on Manchester’s spoken word scene.
A huge congratulations to Joanna as Verbose was shortlisted for the best spoken word night in the Saboteur Awards this year. We are working on a 100 voices for 100 years special so it would be brilliant if you could check them out and vote for them to win an award…. https://form.jotformeu.com/80923358113353
Six years ago, I’m lying in the ultrasound suite. My 12 week scan.
“Do you…feel any different from the first time round?” Asks the sonographer, “Like there…might be more than one in there?”
I’m like “How many?!”
“Oh, just two” she laughs.
“Oh my goooood! This is the end of our lives!” wails my husband.
Twins. A boy and a girl, Nico and Lola. Their older brother is called Pablo (Papi is Spanish hence the names). Twins run in my family. My mum’s mum had a set of twins, the last of a brood of seven. They were a surprise, delivered at home by my grandad. My tiny Nanny birthed 7 and 8lb whoppers. My birth wasn’t quite like that…
34 weeks into my pregnancy, I’m in hospital, laid on my back and strapped to a monitor. The medics are freaking because they can’t find Lola’s heartbeat. They bring in a portable ultrasound and discover she’s migrated to a transverse position. A male nurse with an unwholesome grin checks my progress and tells me I’m fully dilated. It’s been a four hour labour, a rollercoaster of pain.
“OK mum, we need to take you to the delivery suite. We might have to deliver twin 1 vaginally and twin 2 by C-section.”
I’m like, No, I don’t think so, just get them both out by C section, please!
The room is full of people, manoeuvring machines. They have some papers they want me to sign. They are explaining what the papers mean.
“Just give me the pen” I say.
I wake up. It’s 4.00am and my teeth are chattering like an outboard engine. My husband hands me a pint of water. Our twins are OK, he says. They are in the ICU.
I’m told to rest. My belly is like a marquee with the poles removed. I can actually see the coil of my intestine sitting on top of the weird cavity where my twins were.
The next afternoon I’m wheeled across to visit my babies. I hold them both at once; skin to skin and bone and I know they are going to be just fine.
We are taught how to do their cares; changing, cleaning, feeding, negotiating wires and tubes and it feels like a privilege to be able to do these small things for them.
I’m taught to hand express and manage to squeeze out one millilitre of colostrum. Soon I’m hooked up to a double breast pump, pumping every 4 hours.
“It’s a pain in the arse” says a young mum in the next cubicle. She’s not wrong.
A week later I have mastitis. A happy side-effect is that I sweat so much that I lose my water retention and wake up with normal-sized ankles for the first time in months.
Did I mention that I’m moving house? My twins are still in the ICU. We hired a man with van and they’ve put a big dint in our fridge, but we’re in at least. There I am among the boxes expressing again.
After 3 weeks our twins have made good progress and I’m invited spend a night in hospital with them. Premature twins are not good at breastfeeding. They get exhausted and fall asleep before they’re full, then wake up screaming with hunger. So here’s how it went:
Nico waa waa suck suck suck snooore
Lola: waaa waa suck suck suck snooore.
And so on. All night long. A nurse came and helped me swaddle them. It didn’t work. I phoned her again and she told me I’d have to get on with it. And she was right. Babies cry, mothers go batty, that’s life. I was seriously worried about how I would cope when I got them home.
And then along comes my Spanish mother-in-law. Angie is a baby-whisperer. She holds them like a sack of spuds and pats them on the bum, making a tutting noise “tut tut tut”
“I bore them to sleep!” she says cheerfully. She is always cheerful.
Angie has just retired. She moves in and stays for two years. She lives in the attic and Nico sleeps in her room. Her dedication to her ninos is boundless.
I give up breastfeeding and buy ready-mixed formula that costs a fortune. I wean my babies on Cow & Gate jars, 12 for £6 at ASDA. (DON’T JUDGE!!!) My mum buys all their clothes and my dad builds a ramp for their massive buggy and Angie is there 24/7 giving the kids all that extra love.
So we survive. The sleepless years. The scares when I’m carrying full bags of shopping and Nico decides to balance on the edge of the pavement just when a double decker bus is coming. The moments when you nip to the toilet to discover your twin toddlers have pulled a chair to the sink and started spraying water all over the kitchen. The plane journeys to see Spanish family where it was Russian roulette which twin would sleep and which would scream the whole journey. Innoculations and bronchiolitis and an operation for a hydroceal. And the schlepping of twin paraphernalia everywhere. Now they are five and they are so lovely.
It’s true what they say, it does get easier. And yes, I am really lucky. But I’m also going to give myself a massive pat on the back for surviving this far. That’s my greatest achievement!