Zahara, Lalibella and Myles Gregory: Born 12 April 2011, 30 weeks
I found out I was pregnant with triplets very early in my pregnancy (around 6 weeks) when a scan revealed three sacs. Immediately we were overwhelmed but thrilled, though I was also filled with fear and concern as my cousin had lost two of her three triplets 8 years ago, when they had been born at 25 weeks. Being a Doctor, I was also all too aware of the likelihood they would be born prematurely and the complications and risks that would entail.
My pregnancy proceeded about as 'normally' as pregnancy with triplets can be. I was very lucky in that the babies developed three sacs and three placentas, which reduced the risk of a number of conditions. By about 24 weeks the first signs of my body struggling to cope began to emerge, when routine blood tests began to show abnormalities and my legs began to swell more than normal.
I had had false 'Braxton Hicks' contractions from 16 weeks, though when I was 29 weeks and 6 days, I had a day in which they became more regular and slightly painful. I went in to hospital once again to be checked out. I was given medication to stop the 'contractions' which worked perfectly, however blood tests revealed my liver and kidneys were now really starting to fail. Looking back, those pains were probably never really labour but just someone, or something pushing me to go to hospital to be checked out. My blood pressure skyrocketed literally overnight, and before I knew it I had been admitted to the intensive care unit, and the following morning we were in theatre for an emergency C-section. I was just 30 weeks and 2 days pregnant.
Their birth was a blur, and I ache for the experience of a natural labour and that wonderful skin-to-skin contact many mothers and new babies enjoy. Instead, my trio were handed to teams of paediatricians who ultimately needed to intubate them to support them to breathe. I remember vividly watching our second born, Zahara, endure a difficult intubation while Myles, our son, was still being born. I just wanted to jump up from the table and go and give them all a cuddle, but instead they were all suddenly in NICU and I was alone in a recovery ward enduring a post-partum haemorrhage.
The ensuing weeks were some of the most painful of my life. Nothing prepares you for the experience of having a premature baby. Being medical, I really felt I would be able to cope with the whole NICU experience OK - but as a Mother, it was heartbreaking. I will never forget the drive home from hospital when I was discharged, having to leave my three behind. Going home I cried streams of tears for the three very sick children who were left behind, and should still be growing warmly in my tummy. Knowing they were now separated from me, separated from each other and enduring scores of painful procedures in the bright, noisy environment of the NICU just broke my heart. My maternal instinct just wanted to be there for them around the clock.
NICU is a rocky road - one minute your kids would be doing well, the next you arrive one morning to find one has stopped breathing overnight requiring rescuscitation and you're back where you started. For 74 long nights I went home alone without my babies, sitting alone in the middle of the night pumping breast milk for hours on end. I longed to be woken by a hungry baby rather than sitting in a silent house with the sound of an electric machine my only company. But gradually the day neared that they were well enough to come home - and after a rocky first year of life, their health all appears to have been strong enough to pull them through their early life.
The NICU experience is like none other, and only other people who have experienced the journey understand it. That's why I have loved being a part of the RFPB team. I remember sitting breastfeeding my three in the NICU looking at the posters up, seeing the plaques for the Smith triplets throughout the department, and wondering who this amazing family was. When I came home one day and read Sophie's website, my heart broke and I wept for her three beautiful sons who I had never even met, and the horrible journey she and Ash must have endured over all those months. I committed to being part of her team for the next run, and before I knew it January had arrived and I was timing my breastfeeds around getting to the long run training sessions. It was so wonderful to run alongside people who all had a story to tell about their own - or a close friend or family member's - NICU journey. And most importantly, to know we were raising money for such a fantastic cause. Its incredible to think that Sophie's boys 'bought' the incubators that kept my three alive, and I'm forever thankful that Sophie has been able to channel her experience into something so positive. This year, instead of birthday presents for my trio when they turned one, I asked friends and relatives to donate to the RFPB foundation instead - and its wonderful to know that by doing this, my babies are able to pay it forward to hopefully help other premature babies in the same way.
RFPB is more than just a fundraiser for the NICU - its a collective of people inspired by their own journey and Sophie's brave boys running the run of their lives with the same purpose. I am honoured to be a part of such an inspirational crew.