It all started in 2011. My Wife Jo and I found out that we were having naturally conceived triplets in the February of 2011. The chances of conceiving triplets naturally are 1 in 10,000, and naturally we were ecstatic! However, this is where it all started. From day one we had the control taken away from us. Nothing would be simple anymore. The Journey we was about to embark on would be one of fear, enjoyment, disbelief and heartbreak.
From the beginning Jo was being scanned to check our babies’ development up to three times a week. It was at one of these checks that we found out we were having two identical boys (in one sac) and a singleton boy (in his own little sac!)
At first the checks were reassuring and it was lovely to see the babies’ developments, but soon it becomes a real mental strain. It makes you worry about everything and ‘knowing too much’ becomes a very real problem. There is nothing about placentas, blood flow, ‘in-utero’ risks that you don’t know, and this heightens every emotion and fear you already have, especially when you have had it made very clear that miscarriage is a high possibility. Because of the additional checks, both Jo and the boys were subjected to things which may normally go unrecognised however these were examined by the doctors to the Nth degree. Because of this we went through a lot which other people would not ever have to consider. For example, we were told that we should ‘reduce’ the pregnancy down to one child to allow for the best chance of survival. However they could not be sure that by doing this it would not cause all of our babies to die. Even without this risk, this is something which we would never have considered.
After another hospital check we were taken to a side room to be told that there is a high chance that the boys will have Downs Syndrome and asked would we like to have the screening done so we can ‘consider the options’. Again we declined as whether the boys had Down Syndrome or not it would not be affecting the outcome of continuing with the pregnancy or not. Despite all of this both Jo and the boys were progressing well, until 23 weeks at least.
At 23 weeks Jo started to have complications which resulted in her having to have an operation to have a suture to help her to progress with the pregnancy for as long as possible, and even this was to prove to be an ordeal. The Doctor who was to perform the Suture ended up being the biggest ‘primadonna’ I have ever met. Not only this, he was also extremely unprofessional and made an already stressful situation even worse. He started by explaining that this surgery can cause premature labour itself and because Jo was only 23 weeks pregnant they would not help the babies to survive. I was able to be in the room with Jo whilst she had the suture and Jo was awake for the whole procedure. The Doctor proceeded to let a Junior Doctor who was (in his words) ‘just learning’ to complete the procedure. Now don’t get me wrong I understand people have to learn and need the experience, but to let her ‘have a go’ on a pregnancy which is extremely high risk seemed like a bad call on his behalf, and around 10 minutes in I was proved right. He began to complain to the Junior doctor that she wasn’t completing the stitches ‘quite right’ and gradually lost his temper and began shouting at her. This culminated in him having a full on tantrum and throwing his medical tools all over the floor and completing the procedure himself. I could not believe what I had just witnessed and we were both in shock. He did eventually apologise, and we decided that it was best to accept this apology and move on and not put ourselves through more stress.
However it only took three weeks for that stress to make a very certain return! It was a beautiful summer’s evening and I was sat in the garden listening to music, and I remember looking across at the door to see Jo rocking backwards and forwards in the doorway. Instantly I knew something was wrong and we went to bed with Jo complaining of stomach pains, thinking it was trapped wind and with 3 babies in there wasn’t much room for anything else! This ended up being the last ‘normal’ day of my life. The next morning came and Jo, still complaining of stomach pains had ‘a show’ (which I now know is a sign of labour!). Jo rang the hospital but was told to come in after lunch. Jo was adamant that she was going to the pram shop to order the prams. This was Jo’s way of saying I am going to need these prams because whatever happens my boys are going to be OK. This was Jo’s initial way of dealing with the situation in hand. And that’s what happened, Jo was stood ordering the prams whilst slowly and silently rocking backwards and forwards, holding her stomach. I was terrified. After ordering the prams we made our way up to the hospital. Jo was put into a room. A doctor came around and asked if she could just do a quick examination. Now, I am no doctor but I am pretty sure that the phrases ‘I can feel a head’ and ‘8cms dilated’ are not words consistent with someone who is not in labour! And indeed I was right, this was it, Jo was in full on labour at 26 weeks.
What happened next was a flurry of activity, panic and rushed phone calls! The hospital we were at was not equipped to take premature babies that early and our next nearest hospital had no beds available. It looked like we were going to Liverpool, or there were even talks of helicopters and Ireland. Finally right at the last minute the hospital near to us managed to free up three beds, an ambulance was called and Jo was put backwards on a trolley with her legs over her head and rushed off to the ambulance. I followed in the car as closely as I could whilst the ambulance, sirens, lights and all rushed Jo off to hospital.
When we arrived we were put into a private room and Jo was wired up to multiple machines, checking all three boys as well as Jo. She was given more drugs to slow down labour and also given steroids in case the boys did come early to help their tiny lungs to quickly develop. At this point everything seemed to be slowing down and a moment of relief and calm started. Jo’s mum was sent home and we settled down for a potentially long few days. Around 15 minutes later a doctor came into the room to check if labour had indeed slowed down and to then come up with a course of action. The doctor examined Jo and I could see immediately from his face that it was not the news we were hoping for. He explained that Jo’s waters were crowning and labour was going to happen. He then disappeared outside to call his consultant to see what course of action to take. When he returned he explained that the plan was to break the waters and to try to deliver George who was clearly adamant he was coming out, and to attempt to leave Charlie and Harry inside as they were identical and in the same sac and could potentially go on to reach term if they stayed inside. We then received visits from multiple professionals including NICU (neonatal intensive care) nurses, Paediatricians, Consultants, Doctors, and Anaesthetists to explain what potential will happen next, and what will happen to the babies if they come now. There was so much information being thrown at us I don’t think I took any of it in. It was almost like I was a spectator and not really attached to the situation. I felt numb and completely overwhelmed with fear, anticipation and adrenaline.
I just remember looking at Jo and then looking up and the room being full to bursting with people and equipment all ready to help to give our babies a chance at life. There were 3 professionals for each baby, and multiple professionals for Jo. And then it was time to start pushing. They broke Jo’s waters and she began delivery of George. I have no idea how long this went on for as we lost all sense of time. The next thing I remember was a nurse saying they could no longer find George’s heartbeat. What happened then was something I honestly thought only happened in really cheesy episodes of casualty. Every plug which was attached to Jo, the bed or equipment was literally ‘yanked’ out of the wall, and what must have been at least 15 doctors set off running down the corridor Pushing Jo, life support cribs for the babies and all of the equipment along with them. They were all shouting orders to each other about what they were about to do and the plan of action which was going to be an emergency C-Section. I was running down the corridor alongside Jo holding her hand until we came to a big set of double doors, I gave her a kiss and she was gone. I was left stood on my own in the corridor, just catching a final glimpse of Jo as the doors rocked to a close. It was silent. Someone then opened the door a little and said I should wait through the door just behind me. I don’t know if they knew it or not but it was a janitor’s cupboard. So after everything, there I was in silence in a janitor’s cupboard with the mops and brushes whilst my wife was in surgery. I had no idea what was happening in that room and I have no idea how long I was in that cupboard, but it felt like years. The next thing I knew a Neonatal nurse came to see me in my cupboard and said would I like to quickly see my boys before we take them to intensive care. This was the first time anyone had spoken to me. This was the first time anyone had told me my boys had been born and were alive. I just remember asking how Jo was and she said Jo is OK she should be out soon. The nurse took me into the room where my boys were. And there they were, my three boys, Charlie, Harry and George. Covered from head to toe in wires, breathing apparatus and all inside zip lock bags with just their heads out to keep them warm. I can’t begin to explain what it was like to see them like that. I don’t think my brain would allow to me process it at that time. But they were here, and alive. Although the umbilical cord had already been cut the Nurse asked if I wanted to cut Georges closer as it has been left long. I cut his cord and then that was it, after no more than two minutes my visiting time was up. I was asked to go back to the room where Jo had been earlier and just wait whilst the boys was rushed to intensive care and Jo was brought round from surgery.
After what seemed like an eternity Jo was brought back to the room. The C-Section had not been smooth sailing and Jo had lost 2 litres of blood in surgery. When she was eventually brought back to the room, Jo was completely out of it only coming round to ask how her boys were. Over the coming hours Jo started to recover and we started to try to make sense of what had happened and what happens next.
Charlie, Harry & George had been born at 12.30am by emergency C- Section on the 03 July 2011. Charlie weighed 1lb 6oz, Harry 1lb 12oz and George only 1lb.
The first ten day’s were an absolute blur. A few hours after giving birth Jo got to meet her boys for the first time. Unfortunately she then got an infection which meant she could not go to the NICU for five day’s which was absolutely heartbreaking for her. After these five day’s Jo was finally over the worst and able to visit again, however my work had insisted that I return and so even this was bitter-sweet. I spent the following five day’s sleeping at the hospital and going to work from there, until eventually after 10 days Jo was allowed home.
Over the next few weeks we had so many ups and downs every day. In just a matter of just hours the boys would go from doing amazingly well to being in a critical position. We went through multiple blood transfusions, infections, blood gases, tolerating milk, Bradycardias, de-saturations, collapsed lungs and surgeries. It is amazing how quickly you pick up what all the machines are for and what each noise for each machine is. You basically become a neo-natal nurse rather than a parent. All the decisions are taken out of your hands, leaving you with an immense feeling of a lack of control and overall hopelessness. You spend hours just watching your children through a plastic box fighting to survive.
At 5 weeks old Harry got a serious infection of the gut known as Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC). We were told that because of the infection level it cannot be controlled by antibiotics and he would need surgery to examine the extent of the infection. We were told it would be a relatively long procedure and to just wait to hear from them. We left the hospital because we couldn’t bear to sit watching the clock in the parents room. But we received a phone call shortly after asking us to return to the hospital as quickly as possible. We instantly knew that this was not going to be good news. We arrived back at the hospital and were immediately put into a side room where a nurse and the surgeon were waiting. They explained that the infection had destroyed all but 5cm of Harry’s gut and that there was nothing they would be able to do for him. They explained that realistically there were only two options: to stitch up his wound and ‘see how long he survives’ on the ward, or to remove his care. We had to make the hardest decision of our lives and we decided that the only thing to do would be to withdraw Harry’s care and not to let him suffer any more pain. Harry was brought back up to the ward and we spent a little bit of time with him there. Because Harry had been so poorly, I had not in 5 weeks of his life been able to hold him. The first time I was able to hold my son was as I carried him down to the Snow Drop suite where we would spend his final hours together.
Harry died in my arms on the night of the 09/08/2011 at 11.57pm at 5 weeks old.
Just one day later we were back at the hospital for Charlie and George. Everything was so raw and yet we were back in the same room looking at an empty space where Harry had been lay just one night before.
Charlie and George continued to get stronger, but it was not without its setbacks. They both still regularly got infections and Charlie got suspected NEC which thankfully was treated with the use of antibiotics. Charlie also had two collapsed lungs and had to be put back onto the ventilator for a short while. Because of his extremely low birth weight George’s eyes had not fully developed and so he had to have surgery whilst still in hospital which meant being put under general anaesthetic. But eventually they kept fighting and they kept getting stronger, and after just less than three months they were well enough to be moved to our local hospital. Knowing this hospital we were initially extremely reticent to the idea and wanted our boys to stay where they were until they were well enough to be discharged, but we also understood that they had to make room for babies who were in a worse position than ours at this point, and that if they had not made room for our babies, we would not have been there in the first place. So Charlie and George were transferred by ambulance to our local hospital. It was awful. The NICU unit was not fit for purpose, it was dirty and the plans which had been set for the boys were not being followed. In one instance they took George off a ventilator too quickly after surgery and had to re-intrabate him quickly damaging his throat to the point where the doctor had to tell us that he may never be able to speak as they thought they had damaged his vocal chords. But we knew this was the last stage before our boys would be allowed home. We had to stay strong for the final stretch.
Thankfully it turned out he was OK, and after only a couple of weeks the boys were finally allowed home. George still only weighed 3lb and Charlie 4lb, but they were doing everything for themselves and there was no reason not to allow them home. If I thought hospital had been scary, having the boy’s home with no monitoring equipment and no doctor I could call upon was even scarier, and took a lot of getting used to! We had massive anxieties about people visiting them because of infection possibilities. We were terrified to take them out in case anyone so much as breathed on them, and this has taken us years to get over (and we are probably not even over it now really!)
The boys have continued to grow and get stronger and stronger. Today, George has suspected mild cerebral palsy which has only highlighted itself over the past year, and Charlie has spastic paraplegic Cerebral Palsy which affects his lower legs meaning he is fully dependent on a wheelchair. Charlie is such a funny determined young man and George, such a caring and kind boy and they continue to make us very proud every day.
Even after our ordeal we went on to have two more children Tommy who is 3 and Hettie who is 6 months old and who are both just as fabulous.
It’s true that time does help with grief and trauma but we will always wonder what Harry would have grown up to be like, and that will never change. I will always love you loads little man, Dad xx