Alison and her husband put all their eggs in one basket when they started fertility treatment – and they became parents to twins! Here she shares her thoughts on pregnancy, birth and caring for two babies at once.
“We knew there was a possibility of multiples with IVF”
When my husband and I had our first round of IVF, only two eggs survived fertilisation. The best quality one would be reinserted as it gave us the best chance of a successful pregnancy, but we were given the option to either freeze the other egg or have it put back in and possibly have a multiple pregnancy.
We were only intending to put in one egg initially, but since they said that the lower grade egg may not survive the defrosting process later on, we decided to just go for it and put in both eggs at once and see what happened.
There was also a financial aspect to the decision. As we’d paid for the treatment privately, we were concerned that if this round was unsuccessful, we’d have to spend more money on further fertility treatment.
“I was relieved it was just twins”
Ten days after both eggs were reinserted, we found out that I was in fact pregnant. I had an inkling I was having twins, so when the sonographer at my 8 week scan said that there were two embryos, it really didn’t come as a massive surprise for me or my husband.
We’d even thought we might end up having three or four babies, if the two initial eggs had divided, so if anything we were relieved it was just twins!
We were incredibly lucky with our fertility treatment because we were successful in our first attempt, and my husband was delighted we were having two babies – he’s a twin himself so he knows what it’s like to always have your sibling as a friend.
Up until my NHS dating scan at 12 weeks I was worried that something could still be wrong and we’d have to start over, but both babies were healthy and growing. We then had a gender scan at 18 weeks and found out we were having a boy and a girl.
“I had scans at the twins clinic every four weeks”
I was expecting to get really horrible pregnancy symptoms as I was carrying twins – there are a lot of horror stories out there – but actually, on the whole my pregnancy was really good. I did have some nausea and insomnia, but those are things that can happen in any pregnancy.
Towards the end of my second trimester, I was getting really big and my feet got extremely swollen, although I tested negative for pre-eclampsia.
However well things are going, a multiple pregnancy is classed as higher risk – and I knew there was an increased risk of me giving birth prematurely. At the back of my mind, I always knew that I could go into labour at any point but I was determined to enjoy my pregnancy and not focus on the risks.
I went to the twins clinic at the hospital every four weeks for scans to check that both babies were growing and healthy, and a consultant went through the results with me. Having those extra scans was very reassuring.
“I just wanted my babies born safely – it didn’t matter how”
When I was just over 20 weeks pregnant, I met with a consultant to discuss how I’d like to give birth. Many twins are born before the third trimester, so it’s important to be aware of your birth options early on (and to pack your hospital bag well in advance).
The consultant talked to me about the pros and cons of having a planned c-section or vaginal birth with twins. Although I’d always wanted to give birth naturally and the choice was mine, at this point all I cared about was which option would be safer for my babies. I just wanted them delivered safely – it didn’t matter how.
One possible outcome with a vaginal twin birth, is that the first baby could be born fine but then an emergency c-section might be needed for the second baby. That’s a very specific risk for a twin pregnancy and one I wanted to avoid.
In the end, I decided to go for a planned c-section, and it was scheduled for when I’d be 37 weeks pregnant.
My only concern was what the c-section recovery period would be like. I knew it was likely to be longer than with a vaginal birth, and I was a bit worried that it would be difficult to get well after abdominal surgery while also looking after two babies.
However, my husband was going to take two weeks of paternity leave and two weeks’ annual leave, and my parents live just a ten minute drive away from us, so I knew I’d have a lot of help.
“We made contingency plans for different birth scenarios”
Because it was a higher risk pregnancy, my husband and I talked through what we wanted to happen if something didn’t go to plan during the birth, and we made contingency plans for different scenarios.
We knew that it was very likely that either one or both of the babies would have to spend some time in special care after birth, as many newborn twins do. It was also important for us to consider what would happen if I experienced unexpected complications, for example a big bleed, and needed more intensive care after the birth.
In either situation, I knew I wanted the babies to be looked after first. So if something happened, my husband would stay with the babies to make sure they were fine.
The fact that we were going through a higher risk pregnancy helped bring our attention to how important it is to plan for these things, but all pregnancies and births come with certain risks.
Whether expecting one baby or four, I think all parents would benefit from talking beforehand about what they would want to happen if something doesn’t go to plan and you need to be separated.
“It dawned on me that I was going to be a new mum to two”
When I went in for my final scan one week before the scheduled c-section date, we found out that one of the twin’s growth had plateaued. The consultant explained that it would be safest to bring the birth forward, and the c-section date was scheduled to just four days later.
Up until that point, I’d felt so ready to get the twins out. My pelvis was really sore, I had problems walking and really just wanted the pregnancy bit over with. But when the news sank in, I suddenly realised that I’d be having major surgery very soon and then would have two small babies to look after – and that was daunting.
The night before the birth, I was lying in bed and thought to myself “I don’t know if I can do this”, but I knew I had no option at that point. I was going to be a new mum – to two.
I think it’s really normal to have these moments of doubt as a new parent, but you definitely can do it.
“My first thought was that my tiny baby needed to be put back in”
I came to the hospital the morning of the birth and had the anesthesia and surgery explained to me. Because I was having twins, there would be two sets of paediatric teams in the theatre – one for each baby. Since they would be born slightly prematurely, the consultants were keen to ensure that both babies were absolutely fine after the birth.
My husband was my birth partner during the c-section. He wanted to see what was happening and watch the babies coming out during the birth, and the surgeon was happy with that.
I was quite out of it during the surgery with so much going on and found it a bit difficult to be present in the moment. But suddenly, I saw a baby! It was my baby girl and I thought “Oh my god, she’s here, and she’s so small!”.
Two minutes later the second baby, my little boy, was born. He was so tiny that my first thought was that he needed to be put back in again; that he wasn’t ready to be born yet.
“We’d packed three sizes of newborn clothes in my hospital bag”
My daughter, Kennedy, weighed 6.7lb at birth and my son, Lincoln, was 4.9lb, so there was quite a difference in size between them. To our delight, the paediatricians said both twins were doing really well and could come to the postnatal ward with me after the surgery.
I was so pleased the babies would stay with me but also surprised because I thought Lincoln would need to spend some time in special care, since he was so small and his growth had plateaued.
We didn’t know how big the twins would be, so I’d put three different sizes of newborn clothes in my hospital bag. Some were tiny babygros for premature babies – but even those were enormous on Lincoln. Months later, I look at those first clothes and can’t believe the babies ever fitted into them!
“Having my husband with me the first night really helped”
When we got up to the postnatal ward, I got a private room, which was really useful with two babies – I don’t think there would have been enough space for us on a shared ward. Normally partners aren’t allowed to stay overnight at the hospital where I gave birth, but they made an exception so my husband could stay with us that first night.
I was tired and sore from the operation, though my adrenaline was pumping from all the excitement. It was difficult to pick up the babies and understand their cries, so having my husband there to help out was incredibly useful.
The babies and I stayed at the hospital for three nights. I was ready to go home at that point as I was up walking around and felt like myself.
I can’t fault the care I received at the hospital during my pregnancy, birth and afterwards. Every time I was worried, someone was there to listen and look after me, it was just fantastic.
“I didn’t know how to deal with the hormone crash”
It was really difficult when I first brought the babies home. My daughter had latched to the breast straight away after birth but my son, being the smaller twin, was really struggling to breastfeed and had been given formula.
I was told to pump milk and give formula top-ups in addition to breastfeeding. It was really intense and such hard work with two babies. Even with the help from my husband it was impossibly hard to pump every few hours while also looking after the twins, so I decided to formula feed them instead.
I was running on adrenaline and trying to do everything, but after a few days I crashed. I was doing all the physical things for the twins fine, but mentally I was overwhelmed with baby blues and having two to look after.
I didn’t know how to deal with all the hormones and crying for no apparent reason, because I wasn’t like that before I gave birth. It was hard for my husband as well, because he had to support me emotionally as well as looking after the babies.
I felt like everyone was lying when they said how wonderful it is to have a newborn, because to me it really wasn’t.
After a few weeks, I was fine. But those early weeks were so tough and different from what I’d expected it to be like. I don’t want to put people off having kids, but I wish there was more transparency around how difficult it can be at the start.
“I had great support from the community midwives and my health visitor”
Having support from midwives and health visitors after the birth was so important to me. One of my midwife visits was on the same day I had my breakdown, and the midwife could see that I was really upset.
She’d mainly come to check on the twins’ jaundice, and the babies were doing fine at that point, but she arranged for another midwife to come back in a couple of days to make sure I was also ok.
The following week, the health visitor came for the first time and she continued to visit every week for eight weeks. She was just fantastic. I could call her at any point if there was anything I was unsure about and she always had time for me and would come to my home. Even now, months down the line, I can call her for advice.
One of the best things is that I can be honest with her when I’m having tough days. She says that it’s normal to have days when it’s really hard to be a parent, and reminds me not to beat myself up about it or pretend that I’m happy all the time.
One day when the twins were eight weeks old, they’d just been through a tough growth spurt. Lincoln was crying hysterically and in the end I was crying along with him, so we all ended up crying. But it was good to let it all out, because once we got rid of that tension we were able to get on with our day.
“Make your twin pregnancy your own journey”
Having twins is in many ways just like being any first-time parent, but in other ways it’s different. With two babies, I’ve found I’m always really aware of how much time I spend with each of them. I don’t want them to feel like they’re being treated differently from each other, but that can be hard to ensure when they have very different skills or interests.
At the same time, it’s such a delight to have twins – my husband and I never have to fight over who gets to hold the baby because we have one each. They are so much fun and it’s amazing to see their personalities develop – they make me laugh every day.
I’d advise anyone expecting twins to do their best to embrace their pregnancy and not let the thoughts of the risks of a multiple pregnancy take over. You don’t know when your babies will be born, so try to enjoy every stage of pregnancy until they do come.
Ignore the people who have twin horror stories and make it your own journey, because it’s not anybody else’s pregnancy – it’s yours.
More from Which?
- How to negotiate your care: Even if you’ve been told you’re at higher risk of complications during labour, you still have a say in your maternity care.
- NHS and private pregnancy scans: From early pregnancy to the anomaly scan, we look at what scans you can get on the NHS and privately.
- Coping in early parenthood: Sleep deprivation, looking after a baby and your hormones on a roller coaster ride – the first few weeks are often filled with conflicting emotions.