Two for Joy is the heart-warming true story of disabled twins Thomas and Alice, and their desperate fight for life after being born four months prematurely. James Melville-Ross, their father, tells of how the twins not only survived – despite being given the last rites as babies – but also thrived.
From the dramatic first few months of the twins' lives – when Alice suffered a heart attack when only a day old, and Thomas's lungs filled with blood, leaving him only twenty minutes away from death – Two for Joy reveals the path that James and his wife Georgie have followed as parents to two severely disabled children. After the initial anger came the sheer hard work: the sleepless nights; the hospital dashes; the curious stares and unwelcome comment from strangers.
But slowly came acceptance and, eventually, celebration of the joy that the medical marvels Thomas and Alice – now happy and energetic ten year olds – have brought to their lives. Finally they understood that disability might have turned their world upside down, but that it has also provided rewards beyond anything they could have imagined.
This story is for any parent experiencing the shock of having extremely premature babies or coming to terms with having a child diagnosed with a disability. More than that, this story will change people's attitudes to disability, and show that love and true happiness can be found in even the most challenging of circumstances.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
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Wednesday, 27 August
The doors to the delivery suite bang open as Georgie's bed is rolled in.
The room is huge. There must be fifteen people in here, a small army of obstetricians, anaesthetists, neonatal doctors, nurses and midwives, and they are in a whirlwind of preparation, activity and order. My heart jumps to see so many people and I'm momentarily panicked by the sheer scale of the process that has been put in place for the arrival of our twins. But everywhere I turn I see calm, relaxed faces – faces which say this is normal for us – all in a day's work.
Georgie's frail frame is tilted forward as the epidural is administered and she shudders as the long needle slides into her spinal column. I perch anxiously alongside her on the bed as the anaesthetic starts to take effect.
The tall, young anaesthetist's face wears the same pained expression that we have seen on the faces of all of the doctors sent to talk to us over the previous five days of labour. I notice his bad teeth as he says, 'The lives of such premature babies are rarely uncomplicated ... You do realise that you are both in for a very long and difficult journey, don't you?'
We nod the nods of people who want to look like they know what everyone's on about – nods we have perfected in the last few days. We frown in a way which is intended to indicate that we absolutely understand the seriousness of the task ahead of us.
We will laugh about this later. Laugh at our naivety and our stupidity for trying to look like we had the remotest idea what was about to happen to us.
The anaesthetic has taken effect, Georgie is ready and suddenly we are in business. Within seconds the sun roof is being peeled back, bringing light and life to our twins.
The surgeon is shrouded behind the curtain that crosses Georgie's chest, but the direction of his voice changes as he leans in to grasp the first of our babies and says, 'Feels a bit like someone rummaging around in your handbag ... you know it's happening but it doesn't hurt.'
My face is close to Georgie's as she winces in discomfort, more at the thought of what's going on, rather than pain. I feel strangely elated about the thought of finally meeting our children and I smile.
I whisper, 'I love you,' and she weakly returns my smile. I squeeze her hand, pleased that this chapter is almost over and the trauma of her five days of labour can end.
I'm eager to catch a glimpse of our newborns for the first time and I raise my head above the line of the sheet. The calm, peaceful sanctuary of our private moment together vanishes as I contemplate the battle scene in front of me.
I breathe in sharply.
Georgie's stomach, untimely ripped from side to side, is now a gaping hole. The yellow belly fat of her half-pregnancy glistens brightly in sharp contrast to the dark red blood that runs from her wound. And there, in the midst of it all, two blue-gloved hands tear my wriggling son from the safe harbour of the womb.
'A boy!' the doctor shouts, triumphantly.
My boy, I think.
He is momentarily held aloft and time stands still for a split second.
He is tiny and he squeaks like a mouse as he takes his first breath. I can't believe he's human. He looks like a tiny tangle of intestines. Did the doctor yank the wrong bit out?
One side of the room bursts into a flurry of activity. The baby is wrapped in swaddling and rushed over to a small trolley where a team of nurses descends on him, desperate to use these few, decisive moments to save his life.
My mouth hangs open as I turn back to Georgie. Clearly this is not the expression she was looking for from me.
'And a girl!' shouts the surgeon and she too is whisked off to another corner to be resuscitated.
'A boy and a girl!' I say to Georgie, who smiles back at me. Finally her part of the ordeal is over.
A nurse rushes across. 'Would you like to hold your baby girl?' she says to Georgie.
'Yes, please,' comes the eager reply. After days of battling to keep these babies on board, finally the moment has arrived when she gets her reward of meeting them. A nurse brings our baby daughter over and places her against Georgie's neck.
Georgie's face is a look of sheer panic.
'Oh my God, she's tiny!' she says, her eyes flaring with fright and her hands shaking as she cradles the baby in her neck. Our daughter is so tiny, it looks as though Georgie is cradling a telephone handset beneath her chin, rather than holding a newborn. She looks up to me, her face begging for the reassurance I'm just not qualified to give.
'They're going to be fine,' I say, stroking Georgie's hair, my smile betrayed by the panic she must surely see in my eyes.
And before we know it, the nurse has whisked our daughter away and the battle for our twins' lives begins.
It was a hot spring day, just three months earlier, when the obstetrician confirmed the joyous news that the blue cross on the pregnancy kit had suggested to us that night with the magpies.
I remember the sun warming my smiling face as Georgie and I hugged on the pavement after the appointment. It's an embrace we have perfected over the years – Georgie, nearly a foot shorter than me, her face buried in my chest, my long arms wrapped almost twice around her slim frame. And for the first time in almost three years it was a hug of celebration, rather than consolation.
It was the first time since Georgie and I set out on our journey to start a family that our expectations were exceeded, rather than undershot. We had years of trying and eventually succumbed to the need for IVF when they told us that we were 'completely incompatible as partners'. It seemed ironic to methat we were so entirely compatible in every sense, but not in this – the most critical area, baby making.
And even then, once we made that decision, each month our hopes were raised as Georgie passed the day her period normally arrived, only to be dashed when it started again. The plunge back to square one, the tears and reassurances as the cycle of rebuilding began: until next month, when hope would buoy us up again.
But now, with a bit of a shove and a fair following wind, we were going to become the proud parents of not one, but two children. As we hugged on the pavement, I squeezed Georgie tight and for the first time I got the new and peculiar sensation that two lives were now growing between us.
Even the surrounding buildings seemed to nod their knowing support for the news we had just been given – delivered by our obstetric doctor in an inappropriately deadpan manner.
'Yes, definitely two heartbeats,' she had said as if dispensing a prescription.
In that darkened room, lit only by the lamp aimed between Georgie's legs, we heard the news we had waited years to hear and in an instant the clouds lifted and we were left wondering what all the fuss had been about.
For me the pain had been limited to mind games: three years of trying to conceive and the slowly increasing panic that this was never going to happen for us. Reassuring Georgie every month that everything would be OK in the end, whilst never having any kind of certainty myself.
All that worry was gone in a flash.
The almost indecipherable shapes on the screen were explained to us, 'You see the head, the limb buds [yuk!] and the heartbeat?' The heartbeat, a tiny constellation of dots flickering on and off – as difficult for us to comprehend as some distant galaxy viewed through a telescope. Our eyes strained to see and our minds strained to believe what we were witnessing.
In this dim-lit lab, perched on top of Georgie's discarded trousers and pants, I grasped her hand and we gawped at each other like game-show winners who can't believe their luck.
'Hey, remember I told you about the magpies?' I said. 'One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy? Maybe we're having one of each – a boy and a girl?'
'Wonder what the first one means.' Georgie asked.
'I guess the sorrow is the pain we've gone through to get here,' I replied.
That must be right. Nothing can possibly go wrong now. We've done it. We've finally bloody done it!
And the postscript of an email from my brother says everything about how we and our family feel about this moment ...
In the ten years that I've known Georgie, I've never known her have anything other than a beautifully smooth, flat stomach. But my heart swells with pride to see her now, a small bump telling of the long-longed-for presence of our twins.
We met in the first week of university and while all our friends were jumping from bed to bed, we quietly and slowly fell in love, talking endlessly over subsidised breakfast bacon sandwiches and cheap pancake dinners about our friends, our passions and our dreams. She took me on, despite my Mohican, my hideous fashion sense and horizontal approach to life. And I fell in love with her, even as she refused immediate access to the one thing that all nineteen-year-old boys are interested in. So I spent my early days doing everything in my power to make her sure about me. Later, drunk at a house party, I spilt red wine on her white shirt and she slapped me. I thought, I might have to marry this girl.
Within months, we had introduced one another to each other's families. Georgie is the third of four daughters, the ballsiest of five strong women in a loud and loving family. At the head of the family is Serena, a fun-loving, huge-hearted Australian who welcomed me into the family with open arms and immediately put me at ease, calling me 'darling' in her Dame Edna brogue. Georgie's father, Bobs, the quintessential English gent, quickly became something of a hero to all the boyfriends (and eventual husbands) of his daughters ... After all, we only had one each to contend with! He had developed a streak of mischief which I soon realised was the ideal coping mechanism for survival in this female-dominated household.
I'm the middle of three kids. My older brother, Rupert, and I had a fiercely competitive upbringing. I was the younger, cockier brother and believed I was as good as him until I was fifteen, when he put any delusions of parity to bed by landing a haymaker on my chin and dropping me on my backside after an argument. We instantly became best friends.
Our younger sister, Emma, watched this peacocking with amused detachment and, for the most part, let us get on with it. Three years younger than me, she taught us to be loving and caring and grew up with a hardy constitution as a result of having to compete with her brothers for food and attention.
Mum is the driving influence for us and the force behind the safe cocoon of a strong and loving family unit. A more loving mother one could not hope to have, always teaching, always pressing and always instilling in us an attitude that you should throw yourself into everything. Who knows where it might lead?
Dad is an equally critical influence – a hugely successful businessman, he was made Chief Executive of Nationwide Building Society aged just thirty-nine. We turn to him in times of drama and he always seems to have the answers. Despite his success, Dad is never more than two steps away from doing something ludicrous. I like to kid myself that my gorilla impression is on a par with his, but, to be honest, the facial contortions he manages to pull put his in a different class.
After university, Georgie and I had stayed together; trundling along a course that we both secretly knew would end in marriage. We were happy for it to be so. Georgie started her career in marketing and I set off into the financial PR industry and despite our different characteristics, we became ever closer friends and companions until the day finally dawned when I realised that I didn't ever want to spend another moment apart from her.
I proposed in a field near my parents' house, overlooking the Stour valley in Suffolk. I hit a cowpat as I went down on one knee and she laughed and then cried before eventually saying yes.
It rained on the day we got married. My great-aunt collapsed in the church and we had to call an ambulance. My speech was unfunny and ordinary. So many imperfections on what I now only remember as such a perfect day.
The single wonder of the day was the fact of marrying Georgie. The moment that she came into the church I was completely surprised to see her in a wedding dress. I couldn't take my eyes off her as she walked down the aisle and suddenly my nerves settled; this morning's reappearing breakfast now a distant memory. Now she's with me, it's all going to be OK.
Here we are, ten years after meeting, married for four, and about to become parents at last. We decided to take a last holiday together and excitedly booked a week's escape to Sardinia.
It's a hazy, sunny day on the beach and I'm lying back on my sun lounger, my head fogged by the combination of the warm conditions, a large lunch and a glass of wine.
Georgie approaches through my misted vision and sits beside me on the lounger.
'I hope they have your eyes.' She smiles and plants a kiss.
'Let's hope it's their mother they take after!' I reply, taking in Georgie's bewitching beauty. Angular cheekbones above dimpled cheeks that seem to be permanently smiling. And eyes that sparkle like the sun shimmering on the Sardinian sea.
'Boy and a girl, two boys or two girls?' I ask, putting a possessive arm around her midriff, around my family.
'I don't care, as long as they're healthy,' she replies and she's right. We have waited so long to be granted permission to become parents, it doesn't seem right to make any further requests.
'Me neither,' I confess. 'I still can't believe it. Twins!'
'I know, incredible.' She smiles and looks away into the distant sea, imagining.
'I've just been reading the twin book,' she says, the thought suddenly occurring to her. 'It says that by the time I'm full term, it will feel like the equivalent of drinking nineteen pints without going to the loo.'
We burst out laughing. 'That sounds pretty uncomfortable!' I say. 'I reckon I've held on to four pints before, but nineteen! Ouch!'
And now, finally, comes the relief of being able to talk about the trials of the IVF process with our friends. It has been hard for us to fix our faces with smiles of approval at our friends' baby news. But our faux delight has meant that they have all been oblivious to our attempts to conceive – easily dissuaded from pursuing questions about our plans for a family by our cheery reassurances that 'There'll be plenty of time for that – we're just enjoying being a couple.'
One Saturday evening, I open the front door to the whirlwind of giddy laughter and nonsense that is my collection of good friends from university – Steve, Eddie, Neil and Malcolm.
We settle around the table in our tiny London back garden as I begin the process of cooking their dinner on the barbecue.
Eventually, inevitably, talk turns to the pregnancy.
Intrigued by the concept of test-tube babies, Malcolm asks, 'So, how does it all work then, Jimmers?'
'Well, it's not a straightforward undertaking,' I explain. 'People tend to focus on the cost of the thing. Admittedly, that's a factor, but the physical side is far more of an undertaking.'
'What do you mean?' asks Neil, rocking back in his chair.
'Well, first of all Georgie had the lithotripsy – an operation to clear out the pipes and make sure everything's operating inside. Pretty nasty, very painful.'
'Oooh, sounds uncomfortable.' He grimaces, glancing at Georgie.
'Then, once the process started, Georgie had to inject her leg every day to give the eggs the best chance of developing fully. Not nice, every day jabbing the syringe into her thigh. She was stoic about it.'
I smile at Georgie, hoping that she doesn't mind me sharing these very personal details. She returns my smile in recognition of the silent request and I continue.
'Then there's the process where the sperm gets shot up as far as possible inside. You should see the kit they use! You have to have a full bladder for the operation – something to do with ensuring the shape of the womb is ideally positioned to receive the sperm. Georgie nearly passed out on the tube on the way there because she'd drunk so much water and over-hydrated.'
'Some old boy had to help me up the escalator.' Georgie laughs. 'Pretty embarrassing being helped off the tube by someone twice your age.'
We all laugh, then I continue, 'But the really nasty bit, several weeks later, was the farming procedure where they take the fertilised eggs out. This involves a scraping process to make sure they get as many as possible. After the operation, Georgie threw up out of the car window on the way home, she was in such pain.'
'Shit,' says Steve. 'I had no idea. Poor you, Georgie, it sounds like a nightmare.'
Her shrug and wry smile suggest a nonchalance that betrays the reality of what she has been through.
Eddie, ever the sensitive one, then asks, 'And what about you, Jimmers? What did you have to do?'
'Me?' I reply. 'Oh. I had to wank into a cup.'
Excerpted from "Two for Joy"
Copyright © 2016 James Melville-Ross.
Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART 1 – LIFE SUPPORT,
1. Wednesday, 27 August,
5. Day 0,
6. Day 1,
7. Day 2,
8. Day 3,
9. Day 4,
10. Day 5,
PART 2 – A LIFE LESS ORDINARY,
17. Father Figure,
18. The Song Remains the Same,
19. Wooden Spoon,
20. Grief Encounters,
21. Curing the Incurable,
22. Danse Macabre,
PART 3 – DO DIFFERENT,
23. Special Needs,
26. 'Neurosurgical Theatres This Way',
27. Tommy Titanium,
28. Home Sweet Hospital,
31. Keep On Running,
32. Extreme Sports,
33. Talk to Me,
34. Boy Racer,
35. The Court of Public Opinion,
36. A Life Magnified,
PART 4 – THREE FOR A GIRL,
37. An Indian Summer,
38. Same, Same ...,
39. ... But Different,
About the Author,