The girls will be a year old this Saturday. A year. We can't work out whether it seems longer than that or shorter than that. It depends what mood we're in.
So it's their first birthday and, of course, this in itself is a big deal. But the thing about Maggie celebrating her birthday is that she very nearly wasn't here at all. If you recall, in those first couple of days we were told that she would die. And then when she didn't die, we were told that her quality of life would be so appalling that perhaps it would be better if she didn't make it.
So Maggie celebrating her birthday is a very big deal indeed. Right?
Remember also that up until that last hour of labour (when Maggie stopped breathing, starving herself of oxygen to the brain) everything was absolutely fine. Shannon had a very good pregnancy, the girls (we didn't know they were girls then) were very healthy. It was just that moment in labour that cruelly robbed Maggie of a good and proper life.
Of course, I say 'moment in Labour' as if it were just one of those things. It wasn't one of those things. As you may know, women carrying twins are supposed to be in the 'high risk' category. Which means they should be monitored and cared for more closely. That didn't happen with us. What we got was a midwife who, while pleasant enough, clearly wasn't that bright or competent. On top of that, she kept nipping out to see to her 'other woman'. For a lot of the time then, when Shannon was hooked up to the monitors, we were alone. Initially, this didn't concern us too much because the labour seemed to be going fine. When it started to look as though all wasn't well, however, this midwife proved to be next to useless. There just wasn't enough urgency or focus. At one point she even joked to Shannon something about not being able to find Maggie's head when she clumsily shoved her hand up in order to attach a probe.
The details of all of this are a bit painful to recall, to be honest. Doctors came in, they pissed about a bit more. Scanning machines were casually wheeled in, they pissed about a bit more. They tried to find Maggie's heartbeat and when it plainly wasn't there, they finally banged the emergency button.
As I stood there like an idiot, a team of doctors rushed Shannon out.
If there's one thing guaranteed to make me cry, it's recalling Shannon's bewildered, hopeful face as she was wheeled out, as she mouthed to me that everything would be okay.
Within minutes I knew that everything wasn't okay. I was left in the labour room alone for a couple of hours. I called Tom who came straight up and we waited together for news.
At one point, our midwife rushed in with a bundle: Alice. She passed me my daughter as if she were hoping that I wouldn't ask about the other one. But I did ask. Her face fell, words were muttered and pretty soon we were alone again.
Shannon had an emergency caesarean. She was knocked out cold and basically ripped open. They pulled Maggie out and desperately tried to revive her. They somehow brought her back to life and she was rushed off for emergency treatment.
All I wanted was to see Shannon. I'd been told by this point how bad things were and I was working out how best to let her know.
I've always had this attitude - and I always used to say it to Shannon - that whatever happens in life, it'll be all right in the end. You know: what's the worst that could happen? Shannon repeated this to me, obviously hoping that I'd tell her that yes, everything would be all right. But I couldn't do it. I tried to tell her, gently, to prepare for things not being all right. I mean, I was half expecting us to be told that Maggie was dead.
For the next few hours, Shannon kept telling me not to worry, that everything would be all right. She kept saying things like: "Come on, you always say it'll be all right - and it will be. I know it will." That, too, when I think back to it, breaks my heart. Shannon trying to be hopeful and optimistic and repeating back to me all the casual, stupid things I say - like how very bad things only seem to happen to other people.
A few hours later we were told that Maggie's condition meant that she would be unlikely to make it through the night.
We fell apart.
We were told that Alice was fine, but with a few problems, and that we could go and see her. We were also told that we could go and see Maggie who was in the intensive care unit hooked up to every machine going. We decided, after much agonising, that we would go and see Alice and not see Maggie. Bear in mind we were told that she only had a few hours to live. We thought that perhaps it'd be best not to see her in the state she was in - so that we wouldn't always have terrible memories of her.
So we went to see Alice and it was devastatingly sad. As we left her, we passed the room where Maggie was. We could see where she was in the far corner of the room. At that moment we knew we had to see her.
So we saw Maggie and it was as heartbreaking and as soul destroying as you can imagine it was.
That night we cried so much that I couldn't believe it was possible to cry that much. We just didn't know what to do. We talked about how you go about arranging a funeral for a baby. And then we realised that our girls didn't even have names.
We'd always liked the name Alice. So we decided that, as she was going to live, she could have that. We struggled with a name for Maggie because what we were doing was naming a dead baby.
The next morning we were visited by Maggie's consultant who said that, against expectations, she'd had made it through the night. But now we were faced with the prospect of her having a quality of life that would be so low that she'd be better off dead. Both Shannon and I agreed that we would go for that option, if that option presented itself, to relieve her suffering.
Things start to get a bit blurry now.
The following day, I think, we were told that again, defying expectations, Maggie was looking a little better. It turned out that she was a fighter.
It was around this point that we gave her the name Maggie. It was on our list, that name, but right at the bottom. We'd already rejected it. But for some reason it seemed to fit. Maggie seemed like a name that you would give to a fighter. So of course there's Thatcher; but it wasn't just that. There was Maggie Bell, the gravelly-voiced, hard-living Scottish singer who my dad loved when I was a kid. And, of course, Rod Stewart's Maggie May.
It seemed to fit perfectly. And it seemed, in a daft way, that if we gave her the name Maggie she might somehow live up to it.
The days that followed were just really bleak and upsetting and nightmarish - in the sense that it all seemed utterly unreal. We cried all the time. I mean, all the time. We saw Alice lots, of course, and we also saw Maggie who was still fighting. But a lot of the time we were alone in our shabby hospital room.
I say 'our' hospital room. I shouldn't have been there. But they let me stay - y'know, as a favour.
So the days turned to a week and...
You know, in all the time we were there nobody from the hospital - and I mean nobody - took a single moment to say to Shannon: "Are you okay?" Nobody there thought to themselves to just ask this frightened, devastated new mum how she was. Nobody at all. The midwife who was there during her labour - we never saw her again. Not a peep. Nobody offered counselling or advice or anything at all. Like I say, not even a "Are you okay?"
Of course, with it being the girls' birthday we're going to be looking back to that time. And thinking about this past year. We've documented a lot of it on this blog. But even there I think we've failed to get across just how terrifying and lonely and sad it's been. And still is.
You read this blog and you'll get a sense of real frustration and anger. That's because it's mostly been me writing it. I can do anger quite easily - and I've had a lot to be angry about.
But like I say, I think I've failed to get across just how much this has hurt us. We put a brave face on it, as everyone does, but I think I've gone a little too far with it. I come across as angry and bitter and determined and capable and strong. But I'm nowhere near as strong as I try to make out.
So for instance:
I've got this stupid double life on Twitter which Shannon finds a little difficult to understand. But it's this: when I'm trying to get Maggie to sleep or feed her while she's howling in my face, my iPhone, and Twitter, opens up a world that's outside of all that. I can literally hold it in one hand and have Maggie on the other. So I can be a little more like me. And one thing I love about Twitter is that it allows me to be a little more human. I can't read books any more, I can't write any more, I can't do the stuff that helps to keep me sane. Twitter, as daft as it sounds, allows me a bit of that.
One of the reasons I mentioned appearing to be strong and capable is that I've been wondering if this accounts for the way certain people have behaved towards us. In all seriousness, I've got friends who haven't been in touch with me - I mean, not at all - since I told them on the first day what happened with Maggie. I find that incredibly sad and it hurts me much more than I've so far let on. We've got work colleagues who say nothing at all to us about the girls. I mean nothing. I'm not saying that they don't say enough or that they don't say things in the right way - I mean they say nothing.
So what is it? Why, over this past year, have some people chosen to have nothing to do with us? Is it because, as I say, we come across as too capable? Do we - I - seem a bit intimidating?
I realise that this probably isn't doing me any favours. I'm just trying to be honest. I'm trying to get across - for once - how lonely and sad we feel most of the time. Believe me, despite how it comes across here, I'm not shouting and ranting and getting annoyed all the time. Most of the time I just feel sad and lost. As Shannon feels sad and lost. And one of the reasons we feel like that is that we've come to realise that we're on our own.
Don't get me wrong though - many, many people have been fabulous. I love my friends who I drink with and have a laugh with and those I chat to on Twitter or wherever. They don't always ask after the girls, but that's not the point - they're there for me.
Talking of always being there for us:
The people at Quidenham have never let us down. Without them I think we might have gone under a while ago. They're not just lovely and friendly and caring - they're extremely professional and have a real understanding of Maggie and of us. We leave Maggie there for a few days and we know she's in the very best hands. Believe me, that's really special.
The sad thing is that they're a charity. They have to struggle like every other charity. They provide essential care and support for people who, through no fault of their own, have ended up on the shit side of life. And yet they have to go cap in hand, fighting for donations. That seems wrong to me. Even if I didn't have a disabled child, it'd still seem wrong to me.
So they need donations. And as it's the girls' birthday, I'd be very grateful if everyone who reads this could nip over to their website and give them a few quid.
EACH Hospitals - Donation Page
Oh, and apologies for all the self-pitying crap above. It's a tough time at the moment, as I'm sure you'll understand.