Michelle Cartwright’s birthing experience was a frightening rollercoaster and the months that followed proved to be just as turbulent.
She went into labour at 26-weeks pregnant in September last year, around seven days after testing positive for Covid-19.
Michelle, from Grassmoor, said: “I’d started in the middle of the night with pains in my stomach. It never entered in my head that it would be contractions.
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"I’d got goosebumps across my whole body and just thought it was obviously the virus. I didn’t realise at the time but every two minutes I was having a contraction.
"Still, in my head, there was no way that’s what it was. About 10 minutes later, I just felt like I needed to sit on the loo… then literally my waters popped. It was extremely terrifying.
"I just expected the worse – you’re thinking are they going be fully formed? If they are OK, is there going to be something wrong with them or are they going to die? It was all those things going through my head in those minutes waiting for an ambulance.
"My husband, Adam, couldn’t come with me because he was positive and we had our little boy, Reggie.”
Twenty minutes after arriving at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, Michelle gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Charley Cartwright, who weighed a little over one pound and eight ounces.
"The nurse said can you hear that noise, I just said yes what is it?” the 40-year-old added.
"She said it’s her cry – it just sounded like a little cat because her lungs were so small, I couldn’t process it. She was then whisked away, I didn’t even see her.
"Tommy was then born at 5.19am, weighing one pound and nine ounces. He was actually born in his sack which they said was extremely lucky.”
Once stable, the twins were each separately transferred to Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital with Michelle only getting a slight glance at the pair from afar, who were both hooked up to ventilators, before they left.
“I just sat in my bed and sobbed, it was really hard,” she said. “They’d taken photos but it just broke my heart even looking at those as they didn’t look well. They had see through skin, all veiny and tiny. I just didn’t know how they’d live, and be OK and thrive.
"I never expected that a child could survive at 26 weeks.”
Both Charley and Tommy had numerous bleeds on their brains and were born with holes in their hearts.
They required constant monitoring and suffered both apnea, a condition in which a baby stops breathing for a short period of time, and bradycardia which is often triggered as a result and refers to a slow heartbeat.
Michelle said: “They had heart scans, brain scans, they underwent numerous blood transfusions because their hearts kept stopping and they kept forgetting how to breathe.
"Sometimes, they’d drop their oxgen saturation levels and everybody would come rushing in. I’ve never experienced anything like that.
"If anybody has never visited a neonatal unit, it’s a lot to take in; the machines, the incubators, the fact that your baby stops breathing.
"It happened a lot and everybody would come rushing in saying ‘it’s OK, this is what happens’ but you would never get used to that, I never got used to that.”
She added: “It was just hard to look at them. I hadn’t had my vaccinations, I don’t know whether it would have been different but I didn’t have them purposely as it was deemed not safe for pregnant women to have them at the time and then all of a sudden it was.
"I was torn and in the end I opted not to have them but it was said that potentially the reason that they came along is because of the Covid infection and that the babies just wanted to get out of there.”
After a month, Charley and Tommy were eventually transferred back to Chesterfield Royal Hospital where Michelle and her husband Adam were waiting with open arms.
But, just as the twins seemed to be doing well, the family were faced with yet more trauma when it came time to adminster the pair with their routine immunisations.
"Unfortunately Tommy had major reactions to something that was in the immunisations,” Michelle explained. “His heart stopped, this is after they were taken off all the monitoring.
"We were in the nursery, on the home straight, and then they gave the immunisations and he just went blue.
"They had to rush he back into intensive care, he had to do that about two or three times. He really kept me on my toes.”
Now, with the twins reaching six-months-old, Michelle said she is now in the right headspace to share her story, in the hopes of providing comfort to others and to thank hospital staff who helped along the way.
She added: “On March 8 they were three months old adjusted, six-months-old fully. It’s been extremely hard for me and their dad but they’re doing really well.
"They’re putting weight on and they still have medicine everyday but nothing horrendous. We’re very lucky really because I expected things to crop up, like Tommy stopping breathing while he’s here asleep.
"They’re absolutely lovely. They’re both smiling now and giggling, that’s the best bit.
"We just feel we’re very lucky with what could have happened and what has happened, they’re just brilliant. Everything, dare I say, is perfect.
"When I talk about it, I sometimes get emotional because it’s just hard to believe and I feel super proud of them. It’s been a journey.”