My twin pregnancy

20543632_1398125133569685_3557701701204546673_o

From the very beginning, this pregnancy felt different. There was more nausea, more pelvic pressure and more belly. I had a job working from home until I was well into my second trimester, which was a good thing. Many days were a struggle, with low energy and a general “blah” feeling. I tried to press on, thinking it must be a combination of my “advancing maternal age” (34) and perhaps I was having a girl.

It wasn’t until close to 20 weeks, when we received the shocking news that we were actually having twin boys, that the fog started to lift. The second trimester is often referred to as the “honeymoon phase” of pregnancy, and for me this was also the case – despite the fact mine was technically considered a high risk pregnancy, as all twin pregnancies are. My energy returned, I felt motivated at my new job, and I enjoyed special moments with my toddler, who was growing up so fast. I beamed whenever I told someone we were having twins. I was ecstatic and embracing the challenge that lay ahead.

It all came to a smashing halt when, at one of my weekly medical appointments, my obstetrician warned that I had a “short cervix,” and ordered an internal ultrasound. This meant Baby A, Leo, was pushing down, narrowing the cushion of space that protects a baby from the birth canal. I was 28 weeks pregnant and suddenly terrified my babies would arrive early. That same day, we had a pre-arranged tour of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and I trembled with fear.

#28weeks and sh$t's getting real. #twinpregnancy #scaredandhappy

A post shared by April Cunningham (@aprilacunningham) on

It’s very common for twins to arrive early. In fact, more than half of all twins are born premature, or earlier than 37 weeks, according to the March of Dimes. But until this point, I was blissfully optimistic that ours would be perfectly full-term, arriving at 38 weeks, the general maximum for twins. Now I was imagining my tiny babies in incubators for weeks, and I was terrified. So was my husband.

I was told to take it easy and go on modified bed rest. This also meant taking an early leave from work. This was very upsetting to me, especially since other than a lot of heaviness in my belly and pelvis, I felt great. In hindsight though, I am so happy that I followed the advice of my doctors, giving our boys the best chance at a safe and healthy arrival.

Not long after going on sick leave, the real discomfort of twin pregnancy set in. I could no longer sleep. I couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit, stand or lay down. I was so easily exhausted. Tending to my three-year-old was increasingly difficult. I felt trapped in my home, sending my husband out for groceries and my son to daycare. I busied myself with projects like making photo albums and organizing my bookshelf and old computer files. My mother-in-law cleaned my house.

At 32 weeks, I had dilated by 2 cm. Although this didn’t necessarily mean labour was imminent, my doctor ordered a steroid shot to my hip to prepare the babies’ lungs in case of premature birth. I spent the rest of that day curled up in bed, teary, Googling things like ‘is backache a sign of premature labour.’

We had weekly appointments at my OB and well as the fetal assessment clinic, where nurses took my blood pressure, monitored the babies’ heartbeats. Their thumping hearts were music to our ears (Baby B, Callum, was also on the wild side, fitting his personality!). The fetal assessment nurse also performed a weekly ultrasound and always assured us our babies looked “perfect” and “beautiful.” Every three weeks I saw a fetal maternal specialist who performed a more detailed ultrasound to estimate their weights and keep an eye on my shortening cervix, which never got to the danger zone less than 2 cm in length.

By 35 weeks, I was no longer freaked out by the changes of giving birth early. I knew the babies were big enough to have a healthy delivery. I was no longer on bed rest but still took it easy because I had no other choice. I was extremely uncomfortable and couldn’t do much.

It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to have two little humans growing inside of you. The kicks and rolls from each baby were very distinct. Baby B, Callum, was higher and on my left side. Baby A, Leo, whose big head was pushing down for most of the pregnancy, was a little more subdued, and still is as a newborn.

I felt pressure on my lungs, my stomach and my bladder. My back hurt, my hips hurt. I felt numb under my chest, all the time. When I walked, I felt like a baby might just fall out on the ground. I was so, so physically tired. This was harder than any marathon. My body was pushed to its limit!

21764726_10101593400321660_3310519752913543133_n

At 37 weeks and one day, my OB did a cervical sweep, which releases hormones to kick-start labour. I opted for the sweep so labour would have the chance to happen on its own. Although we were now confident our babies would be born strong and healthy, the reality of bringing home two infants to join our rambunctious three-year-old set in. Between medical appointments the day of the sweep, my husband and I visited a nearby beach and talked about our mutual hopes and fears. We both worried about how we would do it. But all we could do was wait, and hope for the best.

The following two days were a struggle for me. I was crampy and down, wondering why I had agreed to the sweep (which guarantees discomfort but not labour) when I already had an induction date scheduled for a few days later. I worried about how “life would never be the same,” especially for our son Silas. I was tired and knew it was only the beginning of the extreme fatigue to come.

On Sept. 16, I was itching to get out of the house, so I went with my husband for a drive to my in-laws to visit Silas, who was spending the weekend there. I missed him immensely and although he normally adores sleepovers with his grandparents, he wanted to come home, too. After a quick stop at the grocery store to pick-up ingredients for a steak dinner (when I ended up chasing my child through the aisles), we went home for what would be our last night together as a family of three.

That evening, I thought I felt some contractions but I couldn’t be sure. They were faint and sporadic. I went to bed, and for the first time in weeks I slept soundly, through the night.

The morning of Sept. 17, a day before I was to be induced, I started timing those contractions. They were still faint cramps, and exactly 10 minutes apart. This felt nothing like the extreme agony of labour with my first son. Still, I called the hospital’s Labour and Delivery Unit and asked if it made sense to come in and get checked. They advised we were welcome to come, but not to worry… there would still likely be a long way to go.

After calling Mark’s mother to come stay with Silas during what we expected to be a quick trip to the hospital on a Sunday morning, we left home and rode the elevator to baby land.

IMG-3543
Elevator selfie on the way to Labour and Delivery. Yes, I was in labour!

“You weren’t supposed to come till tomorrow,” the nurse said with a smile. I guess everyone knew about the the impending arrival of our twins.

Turns out I was already 5 cm dilated.  We were there to stay.

Advertisements

The Farm Family Grows

img_1611
Connie Clark reading her new children’s book to her great-nieces, Joy and Claire Cunningham, in the same kitchen she grew up in.

It’s next to impossible for my aunt, Connie Clark, to have a conversation with her 85-year-old mother without reminiscing about farm life on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula.  

Whether it was dragging eight kids out to a dirt field to pick stones before spring planting, another cow breaking a fence, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through their country kitchen, or the little hands that carried splashing pails of sap through the bush during maple syrup season, the memories are nearly endless, Clark says.

“I don’t know how I did it with all eight of you kids,” her mother, Hester Cunningham, always says.

58223_10100263121805470_1586352653_n
Hester Cunningham

One day, after a long chat with her mom, Clark, an early childhood educator in Lions Head, Ont., started writing down some of those memories.

“It was a dark Saturday morning, the hydro was off, and I was still in my housecoat,” says Clark, a mother of three and grandmother of six. “I just started putting together some rhymes. Within about 20 minutes, I had written a little ditty.”

That ditty is now in the form of her first children’s book: The Farm Family Grows, with illustrations by artist Stuart Burgess.

img_1925

Printed locally by the Tobermory Press, the self-published book came off the presses just in time for Cunningham’s 85th birthday in December. Clark was also able to present the book as a gift to her seven siblings, their children and grandchildren — a family that has now grown to include 96 people.

“I was just so thrilled,” she says. “I wanted to give the book to my family before it was released publicly because it was about them, for them.”

The book turned out to be one of the most special Christmas gifts ever, bringing tears to the eyes of her siblings and joy to the faces of her many young great-nieces and nephews.

“I wanted to make it fun and light, but it still moves me when I read it to the children, because every page I turn to I feel like I could tell them a story.”

The counting book starts out with a pair in love, Hester and Tom Cunningham, who died in 2008. The rhythmic story follows the growth of their family from one to eight children, and the farming adventures they experience along the way.  

“They raised pigs and cows, and tapped maple trees. Along came Jimmy, to make a family of three,” the story reads.

Clark says one of many fond memories includes being a little girl, gathering sap out in the bush.

“I remember Dad — he was such a quiet, gentle man — he’d wink at you and get you to taste the sap. My feet were freezing and my hands were in wool mittens, it was cold but the sun was out and it was exciting,” Clark says. “I’d step into the snow and fall to my waist. I remember the smell of the old snowmobile, and as spring got closer, the ruts from the tractor driving through the mud.”

Clark says she always feels so blessed to have been raised in a rural setting, learning and growing while spending so much time outdoors. She hopes to pass on the same values to her own children and grandchildren.

Now she has the chance to share those fond memories with the next generation of kindergarten children in the classroom — the same cohort who gave her story a test run long before it went to print.

“I took it to school and used it as a counting activity,” she says. “I would read the story and pull out little Fisher-Price people every time I read the next verse and the farm family grew. The children were really involved — they loved it.”

Clark says after reading countless children’s books as part of her job, she always had ambitions of writing one herself. After getting the stamp of approval from her class, she eventually approached Burgess, who agreed to illustrate the book.

She later spoke to staff at the Tobermory Press, who helped her take the next step in making her dream a reality.

The book is now available at McKenzie’s Pharmacy in Wiarton and Peninsula Pharmacy in Lions Head. Copies are also available for order by contacting Clark at wcclark@amtelecom.net.

Not only is the story a personal one, but Clark believes it reflects an important part of rural Canada and its history — one that is slowly fading.

“I am very proud of my heritage,” she says. “We all can’t be farmers anymore and no one can make a living off a few hundred acres like my father did. It’s the true Canadian lifestyle we’re losing.”

Penned in 2012, Clark laughs the tale is already out of date.

“One by one, they expanded more and more. Now the family of 10 has reached 84!” the last page reads. Clark says that number has now reached 96 — all people who have roots in rural Ontario farm life.

“To anyone else, it’s a children’s book,” she says. “But to us, it’s a big piece of our lives.”

551212_10100189831240350_1214458989_n
The Cunningham family farm in Adamsville, Ont, where Hester and Tom raised their eight children, and where son Ron Cunningham (my dad) continues to farm with his sons today.