THE news that you're expecting twins is a daunting prospect for any parent - but for Laura Fitzgerald and husband John, it felt especially overwhelming.
The year before they had suffered the bereavements of two close family members - Laura's mother and John's brother - and just four months before the birth, they had the stress of moving back to Sheffield after years travelling around with John's work.
Added to this was the fact that Laura lives with the neurological condition multiple sclerosis.
Although the disease was under control in pregnancy - sufferers in fact feel their most well when they are carrying a child as their body kicks into action - Laura was worried about a potential relapse after the birth and the impact this could have had on her ability to care for her children.
It was whilst on an antenatal course run by the National Childbirth Trust that the couple were struck with the enormity of what the following months would bring.
Laura explained: "When we were told they were twins we were shocked - though we shouldn't have been really since it runs in the family!
"Talking to other parents of twins, I think you always get that rabbit in the headlights feeling when you think about it and what it will mean after the birth when you're sent home with these two little bundles.
But it was really during the NCT course, when one of the leaders went around the class asking who was going to help out with the baby, that it struck home. We just kind of sat there thinking, 'ah' - because although my two sister-in-laws do live nearby in Sheffield and have been amazingly supportive, they both work full-time and we realised we didn't really have a support network available."
"Luckily," Laura said, one of the health workers on the course knew of the work of Family First Midwives - two Sheffield-based professionals who were branching out from their NHS duties to provide private midwifery services.
Carolyn Clark and Suzanne Lee decided to set up the business to run alongside their NHS commitments, with the idea of providing an extra boost for parents who felt they needed some additional support for whatever reason.
Laura, proud mum to Alfie and Joe, now aged two, said for her it was all about gaining some confidence that they had somewhere to go for help when they needed it.
"The biggest thing for me was knowing that they were always at the end of the phone," Laura said.
"And because they were with us all the way along after the birth, you didn't have to go over the same things each time you called. They knew the background, what you had tried and not tried, what worked for your children and what didn't. It was really reassuring to know they were there."
Fortunately, in the event Laura's MS has remained under control following the boys' arrival, but she and John have still gained much comfort and support with a host of other issues, right from their discharge from the Jessop Wing.
Laura, aged 37, said: "We had to stay a few extra days in hospital because Alfie developed jaundice and they wanted to keep an eye on him.
"But it got to the point where we wanted to get home which we did - but without the Suzanne and Carolyn there for reassurance I'm not sure we would have had the confidence to do that. For the first week or so they alternated calling in to check on us and particularly helped out with feeding support.
"I really wanted to breast feed but there was this immediate issue of how you did the two of them together. It just wasn't practical to think about feeding them separately - there'd never be time for anything else - but at first I was terrified I would drop one of them. Having Carolyn or Suzanne there to sit with me while I did it the first few times was an amazing help and really boosted my confidence. It was the same with advice about sleeping - it meant I was one of the lucky ones who was able to get them going to sleep and waking up together for the first 18 months, rather than having them operating to different timetables.
"Their support has continued as the boys got older, with advice on things like baby massage - which can be tricky when you've got two! - and weening. They became like our professional friends."
This is exactly the kind of service that Carolyn - who still works part time as a community midwife for the NHS - and Suzanne - who has a part-time NHS position as a health visitor and also does shifts at the Jessop Wing - want to provide.
The idea for Family First came in 2008 when they met by chance at a city leisure centre while their children enjoyed a swimming session.
They were each already working part-time by this time and had some extra hours in the day which they believed could be put to good use developing a private midwifery service.
The idea is that it can either be used to enhance the care provided by the NHS, or on its own as the main provider.
There are a host of ante and post natal services available to benefit both mum and baby - with the main advantage being the precious gift of time.
Suzanne, aged 42 from Beauchief, said: "Time is the big thing for us.
"We both still work for the NHS and the care they provide is very, very good. But time is very precious and we felt that by doing this we would be able to offer them that extra quality time and a bespoke service, providing that extra help."
Clients have included mums and dads in a host of different scenarios - from those expecting twins like Laura and John, to parents whose baby has special needs, women who have had to undergo a Caesarean unexpectedly, and even mothers from abroad who are used to a different kind of service.
And although the pair - who each have 20 years' experience in their field - offer a host of practical advice and information around topics such as feeding, recovering from birth, sleeping, bathing and diet, their role also extends into less obvious areas.
"Although on the surface we are helping with all these things," Suzanne said, "it is also helping with the psychological side of things - offering support as their family dynamic changes."
Carolyn, 49 from Millshouses, said it was an amazing feeling to hear the positive feedback of parents who had benefited from the care they provide.
"There's amazing job satisfaction," she said. "Having a baby is such an intimate thing and it's a real privilege and very rewarding to be involved. To hear comments like we have become their 'professional friends' is just lovely."
Laura's partnership with the women has now come to an end and Joe and Alfie are thriving - and she is in no doubt that the care and support she received through their first months has helped make them the contented children they are today.
"Suzanne and Carolyn were supportive, friendly and knowledgeable," she said. "I think their input just made those first few months a whole different experience to what it could have been for me.
"The boys have also been mellow and happy all the way through so I believe it's definitely made a difference to them, too."
Visit www.familyfirstmidwives.co.uk for more information about the service they provide.
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