A Derry mother, whose twin daughters were born at just 24 weeks, said she hopes her little “miracles” will help provide inspiration for other people with premature babies.
Emma Harkin and her husband Garvin have now raised £1,200 with the help of family and friends for the premature baby charity Tinylife, as a thank you for all the support they received over the past year.
The Culmore couple had been expecting to welcome their little girls into the world around mid-June, 2016. By late February, however and just 23 weeks into the pregnancy, Emma went into pre-term labour.
Emma was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and six days later, on February 28, 2016, her twin girls arrived.
Ava was born first weighing just 716 grammes (1lb 9oz), while Amelia followed and was 642 grammes (1 lb 6oz).
“You could literally hold them in the palm of your hand,” Emma said. “Their first nappy was the size of a credit card.”
What was to follow was a fraught and deeply emotional journey as the medical team battled to keep the twins alive.
Emma said: “They spent 10 weeks in the Royal Regional Neo-Natal Unit and we had a very rocky journey.”
It was at times touch and go, and the family were told to prepare themselves and their relatives for the worst on a few occasions. But they never gave up hope, and the tiny twins for their part refused to stop fighting. The families rallied together and the couple up in an apartment 10 minutes away.
“Day in, day out we were at their incubators,” Emma said. “I’m a nurse myself and my husband is a schoolteacher and we spoke with the medics and took their advice.”
That included telling stories and singing to the babies, as they would recognise their parents’ voices from being inside the womb. “They were fighting for their lives and we wanted to be there to be a positive presence.”
Then, when Ava and Amelia reached 10 weeks old, they were deemed stable enough to be transferred to Altnagelvin Hospital, although medical staff cautioned that the infant siblings were not out of the woods yet. The girls were to stay at Altnagelvin for nine weeks before Garvin and Emma were given the go ahead to take their girls home on July 14. “It was an amazing day but also a very scary day,” Emma said.
“We were petrified, what if something went wrong? But at the same time we were so overjoyed and the medical staff had reassured us.”
Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the little twin sisters celebrated their first birthday at home together.
Emma said: “The day after they were born they had an emergency baptism and to celebrate their birthday we were able to complete their baptism. We had a great day with the family and friends and we had a wee birthday party.
“They are both over 16 lbs. now and they are doing well and they have totally different personalities, Ava is quiet and pleasant and never stops smiling, and Amelia is a wee pleasant whirlwind and into everything. The bond between them is fantastic. When they are together they hold hands.”
“This time last year we couldn’t have dreamt of this day. For it to come true and be fulfilled is a miracle.”
Throughout this period, the premature baby charity Tinylife proved a massive support to the family, and Emma and Garvin decided in lieu of birthday presents for their daughters, they would ask family and friends to donate to a Go Fund Me page.
They managed to raise a very impressive £1,200 for the charity, Garvin’s mother Patricia rasing £300 of that via a collection at her work in Costcutters, Creggan.
Speaking about Tinylife, Emma said: “They were always a positive presence and so supportive. If you were having a bad day they would sit and listen and give you advice and support. They also run groups for premature babies such as baby massage and sensory groups and provide time for mammies to meet up.”
Emma said as well as the excellent medical care the twins received, the support from the twins’ grandparents Roisin and Dermod Rooney and Patricia and Billy Harkin and the wider family circle had been crucial to getting them to where they are today.
The family hope their story will help other people who experience a premature birth. “I would say, have hope and have faith, and the good days will eventually, in time outweigh the bad. As my mother always said: ‘Where there is life there is hope’.”