Surprise Twins with Terri Whitaker

25th June 2019

Words by Terri Whitaker // Illustration by Michela Nicchiotti

There’s nothing quite like a birth story, right? But imagine being told you’re having twins at the very point you’re giving birth. It blows my tiny, control-freaky mind. I planned every inch of both boys’ tiny lives while I was pregnant and would have been totally thrown by a last-minute curveball. My mother-in-law Terri, however, seemed to take it all in her stride (she’s pretty chill to be fair). When I asked how she felt about having such a huge responsibility doubled in an instant, she told me that maybe she was just young and naïve but it never once worried her. I find that amazing. But I also think it must be because she wasn’t expected to have everything “ready” like we are today. Perhaps just prepping for the unknown – and leaving the detail somewhat to chance – is the best thing we can do for ourselves, our babies and our future parenting mindset.

I gave birth for the first time in 1972 after being warned it was going to be a very big baby (the words every first-time mother wants to hear?!). Thankfully, I went into labour ten days early and ten hours after we arrived at the hospital, the nurse began urging me to, ”Push, Mrs Whitaker, push.”

“I can’t,” I gasped. The pain was unbearable. I was utterly exhausted. Nothing had prepared me for the agonies of childbirth.

“Come on, love,” she coaxed gently, “I know you’re tired, but your baby’s almost here. One more push and it’ll all be over.”  As the wave of pain surged again, I found myself uncontrollably bearing down. Then ‘sloop’. Oh, the relief! I sank back into the hard, plastic mattress, my damp body drained. 

In the distance I heard the doctor’s voice, “You’ve got a lovely little boy, Mrs Whitaker.”   Then in a hushed tone to the nurse, “It’s smaller than we expected.”


Yanked awake, I pushed. And there arrived our second son. Identical twins. The nurse placed the two little bundles in my arms and as I gazed from one tiny face to the other, I was engulfed by an all-consuming love such as I’d never felt before.

Sitting outside in the corridor, my husband, Alan, was growing more and more worried. We’d arrived at the hospital mid‑morning. By mid‑afternoon the doctor had decided that there were complications and Alan would have to wait outside.

As the hours dragged by, Alan watched other men disappear into the delivery rooms only to reappear after a comparatively short time to proudly proclaim the sex and weight of their newborn. Why was our baby taking so long? What were the ‘complications’? At last the door swung open and the doctor stepped out. “Mr. Whitaker?”

He jumped eagerly to his feet. “Yes.”

She looked uncertain. “I’m afraid…” She hesitated. “I’m afraid I’ve a bit of a shock for you.”

Hope drained from him as he felt his legs turn weak. All the doubts that had been accumulating over the last few hours reached their peak. “My wife!” The words escaped his lips in a strangled croak.

“No, no, your wife is fine,” assured the doctor.

The relief, and horror of the alternative, hit him at the same time.  “Oh, not the baby,” he groaned.

The doctor, realising her bad choice of words, hurriedly assured him, “The baby is fine too. It’s just that…there are two babies.” 

He stood stunned. The relief from all his pent‑up fears overflowed as his eyes filled with tears and he shouted with joy, “Two babies, two babies.” He was laughing, crying, mopping his eyes, and repeating “Two babies” all at the same time.

Eventually I was taken to my ward, our babies put in the nursery for the night, and Alan went home. I was too intoxicated to sleep and thought I might suddenly wake up to find it had all been a dream. I heard other patients shuffling by in the corridor, excitedly whispering, “Have you seen those twins born this evening? Undiagnosed they were. Like two peas in a pod. Come and have a look at them in the nursery. They’re lovely.”

‘They’re our babies they’re talking about,’ I thought, ‘and I’m not dreaming, we really have got two baby boys.’

That night a nurse silently glided in and out of my room with fresh supplies of ice-packs to help heal the bruising caused by the forceps delivery. 

While I quickly learnt how to change their nappies and feed them, with the nurses playfully arguing over whose turn it was to help, Alan was kept busy dashing hither and thither buying and borrowing extras of everything.

I’d originally hoped to breastfeed but as I had no experience with one baby, let alone two, and bottle-feeding seemed to be a popular alternative at the time, I fell in with the assumption that it would be more sensible to bottle‑feed and take advantage of any help offered at feeding times.

The congratulation cards and letters poured in. My sister wrote: ‘Isn’t it fantastic!…I’ve spent all evening scooting round the neighbourhood telling everyone!!  Honestly, I can’t believe it! It’s now one o’clock in the morning, but there’s no point in going to bed as I couldn’t sleep! Isn’t life grand!’

A friend wrote, ‘We’re really thrilled to bits for you both. I hope you’ve got over the shock better than us. We’ve all been walking around in a daze for the last twenty-four hours.’ She was someone who hated knitting but had proved her friendship by spending the last couple of months painstakingly knitting a little jacket. Her note finished with, ‘and if you think I’m knitting another jacket, you’ve got another think coming!’ She bought us two baby grows and gave her labour of love to an Oxfam shop.

Everyone generously doubled up on their gifts and those who had knitted for one sent sparks flying from their needles as they hastily duplicated their work. I had lots of visitors and we were delighted to show off our lovely babies. We had the name Simon ready for a boy, but it was only after pouring through a book of names that we finally decided on the second name – Mark.

After eight days in hospital and many salt baths for my stitches, I was able to walk well enough to go home. I excitedly dressed in my favourite top and new skirt – feeling suddenly lighter and taller as I packed away the nighties, dressing gown and slippers that I seemed to have lived in for an eternity. I dressed our little babies, replacing the rough, antiseptic-smelling hospital sleepsuits with new, soft, sweet-smelling clothes. Alan arrived and we carefully carried them out to the car, but as we started to pull away, the nurses, who had come to wave us off, had to shout at us to stop. In our excitement we’d left my suitcase sitting in the middle of the car‑park!





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