mum who had to lie in bed 24 hours a day or risk losing her babiesSacrifice: Lisa in her hospital ‘home’ for five months
Confined to a bed 24 hours a day, Lisa Copley spent so long lying down, her muscles wasted and her legs became too weak to walk on.
The 31-year-old was under strict orders not to move – she wasn’t allowed to leave her bed, not even to wash or grab a bite to eat.
Though it often felt like it, Lisa was not a prisoner.
“She’d agreed to lie still for five months in a bid to save the lives of her unborn twins.
It had taken her three cycles of IVF to become pregnant, so when doctors told a distraught Lisa her thin cervix made her likely to miscarry, she begged them for something to help.
Surgery was pointless, she learned – her only hope was lying down and staying down until the babies were strong enough for birth. So Lisa was confined to hospital.
Now, cradling twins Lola and Lucas, the proud mum says it was worth every single minute.
“I went for a routine scan in August and didn’t leave hospital until December,” she says.
“Most people hate spending any time in hospital and can’t believe it when I tell them I was in for nearly half a year.
“But as a mother, you will do anything to protect your babies. I’m just thrilled that it worked.”
Lisa’s journey began when her GP referred her to a specialist for tests to find out why she and her partner, financial planner James Richardson, 40, were unable to conceive.
In 2008, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and began fertility treatment soon after.
But doctors also discovered that Lisa’s cervix was fused closed, which explained why she had been unable to get pregnant.
Blessing: Lisa Copley with her two twins Lola and Lucas
They suspected laser treatment she’d had in her early 20s to remove abnormal cells had caused a build-up of scar tissue.
Doctors tried to surgically open it in 2009 and 2010 but were unsuccessful. They told her that her only hope of motherhood was IVF.
She and James were given NHS funding but their first two attempts, in October 2010 and February 2011, were unsuccessful.
It was a painful time for Lisa. She recalls: “You’re told not to get your hopes up but it’s impossible. IVF is such an emotional roller coaster.”
During their next attempt, in April 2011, doctors implanted two eggs.
And when Lisa did a home pregnancy test days later, the line turned dark blue.
“It wasn’t a faint line, it was really heavy,” she remembers. “I thought it could be twins.” A scan confirmed that she was correct.
Lisa and James were elated. But concerns over her cervix meant Lisa’s pregnancy was closely monitored from the start and – just five weeks later – alarm bells started ringing.
“A scan showed my cervix had thinned to 20mm, which was half what it was actually supposed to be,” Lisa explains.
“The doctors didn’t think it was strong enough to be able to support my babies’ weight and I was told I was at a high risk of miscarriage.”
Another scan at 15 weeks revealed her cervix had thinned even further, and Lisa was signed off work to rest.
Three weeks later, her mother took her for a special scan where they were able to see the twins in 3D.
“It was incredible but then they dropped the bombshell that despite me resting, my cervix was even thinner,” Lisa remembers.
“Basically, I was told that if things progressed in the same way, then I would probably lose my babies.”
A consultant at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, in Guildford, told Lisa the only hope of keeping her babies in the womb long enough to have any chance of surviving was not any high-tech surgery or modern medicine but, quite literally, putting her feet up.
“I was shocked, especially when they said they were admitting me immediately,” says Lisa.
It was August when Lisa was wheeled to a bed in the corner of the maternity unit. She would not leave until winter.
“It was too overwhelming,” she recalls. “At first, I set short goals, like making it through the first week.”
Family: With husband James and the twins
Lisa was told to lie as flat as possible. Washing, eating, reading and watching TV would all have to be done lying down.
She was not to leave her bed for anything other than toilet breaks – and those were only allowed because her bed was two steps from the cubicle.
As days passed, Lisa became used to the hospital routine.
The curtains around her bed swished open each morning when nurses did their first rounds. As time went by, staff even began to recognise her choices on the hospital menu.
She learned the names of all the nurses and cleaning staff.
She spent her time reading up on baby development.
Each day, Lisa counted down the hours to visiting time. James visited every day.
On Saturdays, he brought her a double sausage McMuffin for her breakfast. On Sundays, he arrived with a roast lamb dinner.
“I didn’t know he could cook before that,” Lisa laughs.
Days could be mind-numbing. But worse was the knowledge that it might all be for nothing.
“I knew my babies were in grave danger,” she says. “They expected me to go into premature labour and I knew that if I did before 23 weeks they wouldn’t have a chance.”
Being on a ward with other mothers preparing for birth was sometimes torturous.
“Other women were happily preparing for Caesareans or in labour, knowing they would be taking their babies home, whereas I could lose mine at any minute,” she recalls.
“I only cried twice. I had a really bad day when I was sobbing down the phone to James.
“When we came off the line he sent me a text telling me that whatever happened I was already a brilliant mummy as I was doing everything I could for my babies. That was the turning point and I pulled myself together again.”
As summer turned to autumn, then to winter, Lisa stayed in the same bed, staring up at the hospital ceiling, counting the hours.
“I was literally ticking off the days as I imagine a prisoner would do in jail,” she says.
“Most other patients were women in labour who’d go home after a day or two, but when someone stayed for longer I would call them a ‘lifer’ like me.”
Lisa’s first big goal was to get her babies to 24 weeks – the age when they would be entitled to medical care should they arrive early.
But a 20-week scan showed her cervix was now just 8mm thick.
Worth the effort: Proud Lisa with her twins
“I was too scared to cough or sneeze, let alone stand up,” she says. “I just prayed we would get to 24 weeks.”
The milestone came and went – and to everyone’s relief there was still no sign of the babies.
At 28 weeks, Lisa was allowed a short trip out of the ward for a tour of the special baby care unit where her babies were likely to be treated.
“Doctors felt sure they would arrive any day so they wanted me to be familiar with the unit,” she explains.
“But I’d been in bed so long that I could hardly stand, because the muscles on my legs had wasted away.
“When I tried to walk, I fainted. So James took me in a wheelchair but even that was exhausting for me.
“Then I began bleeding and having contractions, so I was advised not to try walking again.”
More weeks passed without labour starting and at 32 weeks Lisa was advised to start practising standing and taking steps. At first every step she took was a trial.
But at 34 weeks medics agreed Lisa was at last out of the danger zone and she was finally allowed home to wait for her twins to arrive.
“I compared it to how it must feel to be released from prison. Our house isn’t huge but it felt like a palace,” she remembers.
But one week later, Lisa developed the dangerous pregnancy condition pre-eclampsia and was told the twins needed to be delivered.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was admitted and taken straight back to my old bed,” she says.
On January 3 this year, her babies arrived by Caesarean section.
Daughter Lola was placed in Lisa’s arms but, due to delivery complications, son Lucas was rushed to special care.
It was three days before he was well enough to join his mum and sister on the ward.
Now the four-month-old twins are thriving. Apart from having physiotherapy to help back pain following her long stint in bed, Lisa is back to normal.
And she says being confined to bed was worth every minute.
“When you know your babies’ lives are on the line, being in hospital for that long is easier than you think,” she says.
“At times I feared I wouldn’t be a mum. Now I have the perfect family.”