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Life after the ICU

The twins moved to their local hospital fairly uneventfully. The parents came to feel that it was a step forward, they had their own little room and the unit was less hi-tech. They said that they missed me and one or two others. Mother said that Lucy complained more than Daniel, that she was a more difficult baby. I thought that Lucy represented the unbearable feelings surrounding the prematurity and experience on the ICU; she was then felt to be problematic.

This view remained with me when I visited the twins in hospital and then at home. Mother regularly breast fed Daniel but only occasionally fed Lucy "for comfort." She would make Lucy wait for her feed while she fed Daniel, even when Lucy was due first. Lucy became stuck on a small level of oxygen which delayed the discharge home. Mother was angry about this because Daniel was ready to go home and she felt that he was getting bored in hospital and that Lucy was holding him back.

Once the twins returned home, just over three months after their birth, paternal grandmother came to stay during the week for the first two months. Lucy slept in the same room as grandmother. Daniel slept with his parents so that mother could put him to the breast as soon as he woke up. It was mostly grandmother who fed Lucy although mother admitted that she fed better from her. I found these visits quite painful. Mother always talked about Daniel and even when I asked about Lucy she would draw the conversation back to him. She seemed to want me to visit but was rather distant.

Then, on the first visit after grandmother had gone home, mother greeted me warmly.

The twins had had their potato and were sitting in their little chairs in the living room. Mother picked up Daniel and gave him his bottle. Lucy looked round the room, banged her legs and looked at the television. Mother said that I could pick her up. I did and she sat on my lap, looking around. I held her so that she could see her Mother which seemed to be what she wanted and she gave me an enormous smile. Daniel continued to feed and every so often Lucy would become disturbed. Mother thought that she had a little colic so I put her over my shoulder and patted her back. Mother did the same to Daniel who gradually fell asleep against her. Lucy put her mouth right in against my neck where she found some bare skin and began sucking with both hands held up in fists against me. This reminded me very vividly of her in hospital. Every now and then she would lift her head and put it from one side to the other. Mother told me that they were only just coming out of a state of shock and getting their feelings back. She seemed much more alive and friendly than she had done on previous visits.

One of the worst things, she said, had been that they had really fallen out with her husband's mother. There had been lots of bad feeling between them. Grandmother had mostly taken over the care of Lucy.

She was not very motherly and had not fed Lucy well. Lucy was doing much better now that grandmother was not staying. Mother reported that Lucy was feeding better, and both babies now slept together in the nursery so there was no preferential treatment for Daniel although sometimes the parents crawled in the morning to get Daniel so that Lucy would not see them. So long as she did not see them she did not make a fuss. Mother said that she hoped I did not mind her talking: it was a great relief. As we spoke, Lucy settled right in against my neck and fell deeply asleep. Mother seemed closer to Lucy, more loving as she looked at her in my arms. I wondered whether Lucy fell asleep so comfortably in my arms with the relief that her mother's feelings had another home. Mother looked down at Daniel and told me that she was often overwhelmed by waves of love for him and when she thought how nearly she had lost him she could hardly bear it.

It seemed that, as mother began to recover her feelings, she was able to be closer to Lucy, although her daughter still had to be kept at some distance and was seen as potentially overwhelming—as, I think, mother felt her own feelings might turn out to be. Once mother became closer to her it was painful for her to acknowledge having been apart from her. It seemed that grandmother was blamed for having been a barrier between them and the bad un-motherly aspects were put into grandmother, hated there and got rid of. The parents seemed to agree that Lucy was more difficult and mother said, "More difficult to love." But father said that he was more involved with her. She had a greater range of emotions and he was obviously enchanted by her. Gradually over the next few weeks Lucy became more content and more secure. She was very active, kicking a great deal, but most remarkably she had an ecstatic smile, very intense eyes and a joyful gurgle. I felt when I visited that she claimed my eyes and my attention, making it hard for me to look at Daniel. Daniel, the parents said, was the more easy-going baby, but he appeared very serious and very involved with his mother. Father said that Daniel had a special smile only for his mother, whereas Lucy's smile was the same for everyone. Father talked of beginning to think back over everything that had happened—doing this at odd moments of the day; and Mother agreed that she did this too. It seemed to me that they, too, were now elaborating a wider range of emotions. I wondered whether, the more they managed to integrate and digest the experience they had been through, the more they were able to turn to Lucy and enjoy her, and the less she had to represent the difficulties and frustrations they had been forced to manage.

I left them sitting side by side on the sofa, mother feeding Daniel and father feeding Lucy, proud of their babies and reflecting on their experience, telling me of it and checking things out with each other. As in our first meeting, I was struck by their ability to listen to each other, to take turns and to recount their own close observations of their babies.

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