My grandmother gave birth to twins in 1942, at 42 weeks. She guessed she was in labour, so walked several miles to her local hospital, Stobbhill, in Glasgow. There was no telephone to call my grandfather who was fitting out warships on the Clyde, and anyway there was no petrol for any transport. She had two baby girls, one big bonnie bouncing baby and the other smaller but healthy. Margaret seemed to catch some hospital bug so the doctors decided to keep her in for a few days. Granny and little Vivienne were sent home; all the beds were needed for soldiers.
Granny’s work colleagues had clubbed together tokens and money and bought her a double pram, an amazing sight in those bombed streets. With Vivienne alone in the prize pram, she trudged back to the hospital daily to see Margaret, who was still poorly. A week later two policewomen rang her doorbell. They had come to tell her Margaret was dead. It was war. Life was harsh. And just to rub it in, she was stuck with that amazing twin pram, with a big empty space in it.
Just over 60 years later, I had twins. Some things were radically different. My dates were exact: I saw 2 heartbeats at 6 weeks. I had the best care: I was checked for Downs Syndrome and diabetes; I was scanned to ensure the twins were growing properly; my mental health was monitored; we made birth plans. It seemed a world different from my grandmother.
My twins got bored of life inside at 26 weeks. I drove back from the Isle of Wight very very fast; none of Granny’s lonely trot for me. I was in labour. It stopped. It started again. The twins were on the way. I was told I needed a caesarean as both were breech and they were too premature for the trauma. Literally, on the way to theatre, one of them turned round. We could wait a bit longer. The priest was there, ready to baptize these tiny twins if they somersaulted again. Too much information, too many variables.
I stayed in the ante-natal ward for 4 weeks with no treatment but progesterone, bed rest and crossed legs.
So much for the advancement of science.
I was a horrible patient, bored out my head, not knowing if I wanted my babies to be born so I could go home and see my big boys, or willing my babies to stay in for their own well-being. In the end it was not up to me. One night the bedtime drinks trolley squeaked over, I got my tea, took a sip, and shouted that the twins were coming.
They came very fast. Ishbel (my grandmother’s name) was born at 22:16 and Mungo (Gaelic for beloved) came out breech, two minutes later. She still says he pushed her. Both went to NICU and I did not see them together again for two weeks. Ish was tiny but well, and Mungo could not breathe, and then developed the symptoms of NEC, a horrible gut-rotting disease. Margaret’s death certificate says gastro-enteritis, and I suddenly wondered if that was NEC and if Mungo was about to die of the same thing as my aunt had, 60 years earlier.
My twins, both of them, are 13 next week. My mother is almost 73. In the joy (and sometimes horribleness) of them, I feel so for my grandmother. But I wonder how much the science of obstetrics has moved on. Sixty years on, we have little more idea why my twins were early than my grandmother had why hers were late. My aunt died from a gut infection in the war, and my Mungo, and many many others, suffer from NEC in neonatal units round the country. I can’t do the twins’ biology homework – it’s all stem cells and things undiscovered when I was at school. But in these days of cloning sheep and regrowing organs, I can’t help wondering, if my Ishbel had twins, would we be much further on?
I guess that’s why we need Borne.
Guest blog by Fiona Mylchreest