My twin pregnancy

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Twin FAQs

Q: Are you having identical or fraternal twins?

This was one of our first questions too, and it is surprisingly difficult to answer. Since we only discovered there were two babies at 20 weeks, apparently we will never be totally sure unless we have a DNA test done on the babies after they are born.

What we do know is that the babies each have their own amniotic sac and what appears to be one fused placenta. This means they are likely fraternal (dizygotic), or formed from two fertilized eggs. This is the most common kind of twin pregnancy. We are happy with this news because it generally lessens the risks associated with being pregnant with multiples.

Identical twins (monozygotic), who form from one fertilized egg that splits, generally grow in one sac and share a placenta. This can lead to risks such as Twin to Twin Transfusion. But identical twins can sometimes have their own sacs and placentas if they separate in the very early days of conception.

Clear as mud? Suffice it to say, we think they are probably fraternal, but we are not totally sure!

Q: Do twins run in your family?

Twins are all throughout Mark’s family tree. Mark’s siblings are twins, his mother is one of two sets of twins in her family, and his cousins are twins. In my family, twins are a less frequent: I have second cousins who are twins, but that’s about it.

Fraternal twins can run in families, and identical twins don’t.

This is because fraternal twins come from “hyper-ovulation,” or the release of more than one egg in a cycle, which is a trait that can only be passed down from the mother’s family. So even though the twin gene runs strong in Mark’s family, it has no link to our pregnancy!

Hyper-ovulation can also be caused by advancing maternal age, and I am 34 years old. It can also just be a random occurrence!

Put simply, we won the baby lottery, because the chances of having twins are 1 in 67. How lucky are we?

 

2014: The year I learned to run pregnant and as a new mom

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This year I learned so much about this body of mine. I learned to love it, respect it and use it to help my baby grow.

It’s pretty amazing, really, what we can make our bodies do, and what they’re meant to do.

At the beginning of 2014, I was about 14 weeks pregnant. I had just finished a December run streak, and we had just started to share the news with family and friends that we were expecting a baby.

I tried to keep running as that baby bump grew. With such a snowy winter, I continued with most of my runs on the treadmill, at the gym. I kept going until my hips started to hurt. By that time, I was about 28 weeks pregnant. I actually kept running longer than I expected I would.

After that, I tried to stay fit by doing spinning classes, walking and doing strength exercises.

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Throughout my pregnancy, I gained 35 pounds. I tried to find a balance between listening to my body and nourishing my baby and not giving in to every craving. I was really lucky to have a healthy pregnancy and a normal childbirth (although “normal” is actually crazy, intense, PAINful! And yes, I had an epidural!)

On June 27, 2014, our baby boy, Silas, was born. And oh, how our lives changed. He filled us with immense love, happiness and, well, fear.

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My expectations for getting back into running after hitting the traditional six-week mark flew out the window. Every moment was consumed by caring for our son. I don’t think I really understood how life-changing having a child would be until it happened. He needed me all the time. For months, his only naps were in the cozy arms of mom or dad. Nights were tough at first, then better, then challenging again. I had to learn that getting stuff done could wait. Baby was and is priority no. 1.

Unexpected challenges with breastfeeding ultimately lengthened my recovery time until Silas was about three months old. Only then did I start feeling like some semblance of my old self. Except now, it’s April, the Mama. And I love it. It feels like the person I was always meant to be.

My first post-partum run wasn’t until mid-September. At that point I still had nurses coming to change my dressing every couple of days. But I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Those first few runs and workouts were so hard. But gradually they became a little easier and I realized I wasn’t completely starting from square one again (probably thanks to my fitness during pregnancy).

In late October, I decided I wanted to sign up for the Santa Shuffle. It’s just a fun run, but I needed a goal. It turned out to be a good decision. The registration forced me to get out for three runs a week. Not only were those runs good for my sanity, but they helped me get some confidence back.

I’ve kind of let my running slip over the past couple of weeks, with the hustle bustle of the Christmas season. But yesterday I signed up for the first run of 2015: the 13K Lorneville Loop! So things are about to get real!

This year, my running all but came to a halt. But I’m picking it up again. I’m learning how to juggle motherhood and fitness, and admiring all those fit moms out there who manage to make it work.

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Hope you all can take time to acknowledge your own accomplishments of 2014 as we look forward to another year and whatever challenges and blessings it may bring.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Easing into maternity leave

April Cunningham

Telegraph-Journal

SAINT JOHN – 

For the past five years, I’ve capped off most days by writing a couple of these, followed by the news. When you have something on the screen, it’s easier to get started on the story.

Now I have a whole year of parental leave. A year to learn a new skill that I hope makes me better at everything: motherhood. (Can you add that to LinkedIn?). On Friday, after a whirlwind news week for New Brunswick, I said so-long to my work mates and headed for home.

It will be such an adjustment to focus away from news and inward toward family for the new several months. So far, about one week in, I am loving it.

With less than two weeks to go before we meet our baby, I have been bustling with energy, trying to get our home ready. I am a real list person and there are sticky notes everywhere. I have been cleaning, shopping and gardening. By the end of every day, I’m exhausted.

I planted some herbs on our deck as well as a mini-vegetable garden in our back yard.
I planted some herbs on our deck as well as a mini-vegetable garden in our back yard.

 

I’m still trying to go for walks at least a few times a week to keep active and fit. With this beautiful June weather, it’s not hard to find an excuse to get outside. A couple days ago, as I walked (ambled?) through our neighbourhood, another mother pushing a stroller yelled out “You go girl!” from across the street. It encouraged me to continue at a much brisker pace than normal.

Today, halfway through my walk, I got some pain through my back and couldn’t wait to get home. At first I thought it might be the start of… something. But I think I was just sore and tired. It’s always an interesting balance, keeping fit while pregnant.

Visiting Cavendish, PEI, at 36.5 weeks.
Visiting Cavendish, PEI, at 36.5 weeks.

If the baby comes by the due date (June 25), that means there are only 13 days to go. It will be gone in a flash.

My goal is to get my to-do lists taken care of now so I can relax with my husband for the rest of our pre-baby time.

What a blessing this pregnancy has been. I’m ready for motherhood. Bring it on!

Third trimester exercise

Although strenuous activity is out the window at this point, I have still been making an effort to keep moving through this final stage of pregnancy.

Most days it hasn’t been too difficult because I’m in serious nesting mode, feeling restless and wanting to do something. Other days (like today), I feel lethargic. I am not a napper but napped today for the first time in forever.

The more seasonal spring weather has helped motivate me to get outside and just walk. Walking feels good, refreshing and energizing. I think I had underrated how pleasant it is.

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A hike last weekend at 34.5 weeks

 

I usually aim for three to four good walks a week at a brisk pace. I’m lucky to live close to the Irving Nature Park, a beautiful spot next to the ocean, and have done the five and 6.5-km loops a few times. By the end, I’m pooped. Feels like not so long ago that I did three loops of the park during my half-marathon training. (Sometimes I can’t help but feel a little sad about how far my fitness level is from that point, but I know I’ll be back in good time.)

I also enjoy walks in my west-side neighbourhood and usually keep to a 30-40 minute walk on weeknights. One of the best things about walking vs. running is you really take in more of your surroundings. I’ve talked to and greeted more of my neighbours and taken closer notice of people’s lovely gardens and homes.

Aside from that, I have enjoyed pre-natal yoga. For six weeks, I was enrolled in a class at the Amana Institute taught by Heather MacLean-Reid. It was a wonderful, relaxing, invigorating experience and I was sorry to see it end. I was hoping to keep coming sporadically but haven’t made it back for a drop-in class since. Unfortunately, the studio is about a 30-minute drive away, but I felt like it was worth it. I also car-pooled with two of my mommy buddies. We are all due within three weeks of each other!

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Jackie, me and Sarah

Lastly, I have been trying to keep up some strength exercise, since I know that’s so important to labour, delivery and recovery.

The problem has been that I was so used to tough bootcamp-style stuff that I didn’t know what to do and just sort of gave up.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve started my strength routine again with some easy-peasy stuff I found online. It’s great because I can roll out my yoga mat and get through the exercises and stretches within an hour. I only have two-pound weights at home but make the sets more challenging by upping the repetitions. I also add in more squats (done without the stability ball) and more side planks.

I say easy-peasy but truth is, by the end, I’m hot and out of breath. Not sweating, and not panting, but that’s the whole point of working out in your third trimester.

Easy does it.

 

The bathroom, and feeling faint

As of last weekend, our bathroom was finally complete. It was our first major home renovation since we moved in two years ago. Although we hired a contractor to do the work, it was still hard (especially living without a shower for more than two weeks!) Thank goodness we have another half-bath in the basement. Here are some before-and-after shots.

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Before…

 

During...
During…

We’re very pleased with the outcome and it feels very grown-up to have taken this on… Now that we have a good contractor, we also feel inspired to take on more projects. Next step: new windows for our bedroom and the baby’s room.

Now that I don’t have to go to the gym to shower anymore, my workouts have been much more relaxed. That was except for my weekend spinning class, which I was enjoying right up until last weekend, in my 30th week of pregnancy.

I felt fine, energetic even, during the class. Drank what I thought was enough water. Ate a little breakfast beforehand…. but about 20 minutes after class, a feeling of faintness overcame me. I suddenly felt hot, nauseous and my head filled with black spots (to me it feels like pins and needles in my head). I was with my friend at Starbucks but was sitting at a table. I laid my head down and luckily the feeling passed. I spoke to my doctor about it (it actually wasn’t the first time this happened, but the first time post-workout), and she didn’t seem too alarmed. It was probably caused by the hot conditions in the spinning classroom. I also probably didn’t drink enough water… and yes, the class was probably a little too strenuous for me. Another ego check… time to slow down – again!

So it has been all about the walks for me this week. I know I can still workout at the gym in the cooler areas, while drinking lots of water, but just no more sweaty spinning classes. I am also still taking prenatal yoga, which I love! (Hoping to write more on that later…)

Today Mark and I went for a walk and ran for about a block just for fun. Well, it didn’t feel very fun. My legs were on fire and my breathing was heavy, not to mention the tightness in my hips. Wow… just a couple of weeks off running (and a growing belly) can make all the difference.

I hope to keep up regular exercise until the very end – I find it really helps with my energy levels. Yesterday I was such a slug. Came home after work, went out for dinner, and fell asleep by 7:30 p.m. (no word of a lie). It kind of backfired on my when I woke up starving at 4 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I stayed awake all day scurrying/nesting around the house and I don’t feel tired at all tonight. I figure it must be the fact that I kept active.

One thing is for sure: through all of this, the little bundle of joy in my belly keeps moving constantly. Someone’s having a good workout… even if it’s not me!

Facing the truth

It was the second day into my third trimester when I realized my pregnant running days were drawing to a close.

I had tried a brisk, 10-minute walk on the treadmill (on an incline) followed by a five-minute run at 5.7 mph. Repeated this twice to make a 30 minute workout. It was not exactly comfortable, but bearable.

But boy, did I ever feel it when I got home. My mid section was killing me. My hips and lower abdomen were tight and sore. The feeling lasted a couple days.

I always said I would keep running as long as I could through this pregnancy. And I guess just because it’s pretty uncomfortable to run now doesn’t mean I can’t. But I’ve decided to take a cue from my body (and my baby) and slow it down a notch. Time to turn those runs into walks. The last thing I want is to end up with an injury, or worse, to take a tumble that could hurt the baby.

But oh… how jealous I am of my friends who are feeling the joys of spring’s first lovely runs. I think about last year at this time, and how I was knee-deep in half-marathon training. I was in tip-top shape, and now I’m waddling around, breathless half the time.

I know that just because I’ve chosen not to run doesn’t mean I can’t stay in decent shape. I can still hit the elliptical, stair climber or bikes, and I can take spinning classes no problem. I have also thought about dropping in to the Aquatic Centre for some swims.

And there are walks in the fresh air through the neighbourhood. Tonight’s walk was a pleasant, 40-minute jaunt. After a brutal winter, it was so nice outside, and there’s nothing like a good walk to clear the mind. I can use this time to listen to some informative podcasts, I thought to myself tonight. (Not like running, which for me, demands spicy dance and/or pop music).

In my last 10 weeks of pregnancy, I hope to walk most days. The same group who joined me on a run streak last December have restarted the plan to coincide with the NHL playoffs, which should end just a couple weeks before my due date. I’ve decided to make mine a walk streak.

But going from running to walking is a little like taking the caffeine out of your coffee. Like taking the sugar out of your cookie. It’s just not the same.

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28 weeks as of April 2