2 April 2024

After turning 39, Rebecca had practically written off becoming a mum. As time flew by and she hadn’t met ‘the one’, she started to think she would never be a mother. She had watched friends and family become parents but had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to happen for her. But when Covid struck, Rebecca fell in love with her friend, Matt, who she had known for 20 years, after meeting when they worked together as teenagers. And the rest is history.

Much to their amazement at an early seven-week scan, the couple discovered they were expecting twins. Although Rebecca’s pregnancy went smoothly, it was when her twin boys were born that things started to go wrong. Rebecca was later diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a rare liver and blood clotting disorder. She found herself in a life-threatening situation but made a full recovery.

To find out aged 40 that I was expecting twins was the perfect scenario

The mum-of-two and primary school teacher has shared her story after experiencing birth trauma, in the hope of helping others who may face a similar situation.

Rebecca said: “As I approached my 40th birthday, I’d sort of written myself off. I didn’t think I’d have children. I had looked into adoption as I was still single. I was really serious about wanting to be a mum but didn’t know how I could be. I’d tried internet dating but kept being let down. But then, after 20 years of cinema trips, days out and dinner dates together with Matt, something changed and everything happened organically and fell into place. It was meant to be. We had always been part of each other’s lives since we worked at Tesco together.”

Talking about discovering they were having twins in early 2021, Rebecca said: “To find out aged 40 that I was expecting twins was the perfect scenario. I had always wanted two children and with time ticking on, I didn’t know if that would be possible.  This made my whole world complete, it’s like a fairytale. Due to Covid restrictions, Matt wasn’t with me when I found out we were having twins, but he reacted really positively.  We had to get our heads around having two, and worried about how we were going to cuddle two babies and feed two babies but we were thrilled.”

Although the pregnancy was generally smooth, Rebecca did suffer with severe pelvic girdle pain and found it extremely uncomfortable and difficult to walk. However, in August, weeks before her due date, a pain started in Rebecca’s shoulder.  Thinking it was a trapped nerve, she massaged it but the pain just worsened.

“I said to Matt that my shoulder was really hurting and I didn’t know what to do.  Although at this point, I didn’t think it was related to the babies, we tried ringing the midwife but couldn’t get through, so decided we would go to Accident and Emergency as the pain was so intense in my shoulder. When we arrived at A and E there was a queue out the door so we went to the maternity unit. I burst into tears with relief when the maternity unit took us in – they did all the normal tests and they didn’t think it was anything to do with the babies. Then I started being sick so they sent me for more tests. I was 34 weeks pregnant at this point. Then they said they would run some more tests and I should be able to go home.  There was a delay in getting some test results and luckily,  they decided to keep me in until they were back. I was put on a ward and monitored throughout the night. The sickness and intense pain in my shoulder continued all night.”

Rebecca recalled: “By the early hours of the next morning, there was a lot of activity around my bed and I remember being told that they were going to deliver the babies.  It came as a huge shock.  One of the babies’ heartbeats was up and down and doctors were concerned the baby was in distress.” Matt had been sent home prior to this, so was quickly called back, changing bags at the ready for the new arrivals.

Rebecca said: “It was all a bit of blur at this point. I don’t have a clear picture of it all because I was out of it. That’s what I have struggled with. I remember trying to sign the consent form for the C-section and that was difficult. I just kept saying to myself that once the babies were here, the pain in my shoulder would go.”

Twin boys Alexander and Harrison were born at 34 weeks plus two. Luckily the birth went to plan and the boys were both healthy.  They were taken to the Special Care Baby Unit as they were born prematurely but were ok.

Rebecca added: “Matt and I were in the recovery room and called our families to tell them the good news.  None of them had any idea we had even gone to the hospital. There were some emotional phonecalls. Everything seemed normal, although the pain in my shoulder was still there.”

Credit: ivitamay photography 

Rebecca said doctors thought the shoulder pain would go away and gave her peppermint water to ease the pain. She was worried about taking her first steps after the C-section and that’s when the situation took a sudden dramatic turn. Rebecca collapsed twice and doctors realised something more serious was happening to the new mum.

“I was so drowsy. I had blood tests and a CT scan and that’s when they found heavy bleeding in my liver. No-one could explain why it had happened and I was deteriorating,” she said.

Three days after the boys were born, Rebecca was able to cuddle them for the first time but she was still very unwell, with doctors saying her situation was life threatening.

Around five days after the twins were born, Rebecca was diagnosed with HELLP, a rare liver and blood clotting disorder that affects pregnant women. According to the NHS, it is usually diagnosed after the babies are delivered but it can happen after 20 weeks of pregnancy, or before in rare cases. Following the HELLP diagnosis, Rebecca had a blood transfusion, then ended up with a lung infection too.

“Things were really serious, the boys were in special care still. I can only remember little bits. That’s what I really struggled with afterwards. I really struggled with needing to know what had happened and the sequence of things. That affected me for a long time. I was forever asking Matt questions to fill the gaps in my head," she added. 

Parents and twins
Credit: ivitamay photography  

Rebecca spent two-and-a-half weeks in hospital following the twins’ birth. Once home, Rebecca really struggled mentally and was incredibly emotional about what she had been through.  She said: “I was still in a lot of pain from my liver when I came home and was unable to do many of the things I expected to do with my newborn babies.  I couldn’t enjoy those first newborn days as I was so unwell and upset. I didn’t have that overwhelming feeling of love you hear everyone talk about, and that made me feel like I was a terrible person. The midwives reminded me that not everyone feels that way.”

Support from health visitors and midwives after the birth was really beneficial for Rebecca, as was the debrief, offered by the hospital, to piece together what had happened.  It was only then she started to understand the birth trauma she had faced. She was able to ask questions about the circumstances and the sequence of events after the boys were born and the time when she was seriously ill. 

Rebecca said: “It really took me a long time afterwards to understand everything and what had actually happened to me. We had done an antenatal course with Twins Trust and we didn’t make the third part as I ended up having the boys. The course instructor called me to check I was ok and that was so kind. Matt and I had a video call with her and she was able to help with the questions we had. Talking to people about what I had been through really helped.

“I’ve been through a lot and I still think about what happened but I can’t be too sad as we have two healthy, amazing boys.”

HELLP facts

  • HELLP syndrome is a rare liver and blood clotting disorder that can affect pregnant women. It's most likely to occur immediately after the baby is delivered but can appear any time after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and in rare cases before 20 weeks
  • The letters in the name HELLP stand for each part of the condition:
  • "H" is for haemolysis – this is where the red blood cells in the blood break down
  • "EL" is for elevated liver enzymes (proteins) – a high number of enzymes in the liver is a sign of liver damage
  • "LP" is for low platelet count – platelets are substances in the blood that help it clot
  • HELLP syndrome is potentially as dangerous as eclampsia, and is slightly more common
  • The only way to treat the condition is to deliver the baby as soon as possible

(Information supplied by NHS)