The first time I laid eyes on my newborn twins was the happiest day of my life.
It was a moment I never thought I’d see – after my partner left me, my dad refused to have anything to do with me and I’d moved to the UK just a couple of years earlier.
Without any support network, I had no idea how I would cope. Thankfully, I’m in a much more stable position now and can safely say that I wouldn’t change a thing.
I was born in Albania but moved to Greece with my family in 1997 when I was five years old because the war in Macedonia meant it wasn’t safe for us.
In our village there were guns everywhere – every house had one. I even remember finding bullets on the streets and playing with them.
So we crossed the border through the mountains from Albania to Greece.
Being raised in Greece wasn’t easy. We first moved to the northern part where there weren’t many non-Greek people at my school so I was picked on. We moved to Athens when I was 11 – everything was much easier for me there because I had my mum’s family to support us. My cousin was also at the same school as me.
I met my now ex-partner, Christos* around 10 years ago and we were together for six years, but we separated after a disagreement about what we wanted from our future. He didn’t want marriage and children but I did.
I decided to move to the UK because I wanted to have a fresh start after we broke up. He then came to the UK for a couple of weeks and stayed with me in a houseshare I was living in. Things were still very complicated.
He eventually moved but would come and see me once a week – going and coming whenever he wanted to.
By the time he came back from one of his trips, I had found out I was pregnant. I was so happy because it’s something I’ve always wanted but I was also nervous about telling Christos.
Shortly into my pregnancy, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and I was furloughed from my job (Picture: Alda Malko)
As expected, he didn’t want me to go through with the pregnancy. I was devastated and absolutely didn’t want to.
Unfortunately, Christos made it clear that he didn’t want to be involved if I went through with the pregnancy so I was left with an impossible choice – one that I ultimately made with my heart.
Feeling devastated and alone, I contacted my family back in Greece for support.
Unfortunately, my father has strict views and beliefs about women having children unmarried so he refused to help me. This was very hard, and complicated.
I felt devastated. You expect your family to be there for you. My mum tried to change my dad’s mind but he wouldn’t budge.
This was just the start of a very difficult and lonely pregnancy.
Five weeks in, I was working long hours and I started bleeding so I went to the hospital. That’s when I found out I wasn’t just having one baby – I was actually having twins – it was a big surprise!
By this stage, I still didn’t know many people in London, I was still trying to learn English and I was working as a bartender to earn as much money as possible – a physically tough job.
Shortly into my pregnancy, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and I was furloughed from my job, which was absolutely terrifying.
I managed to get another job at a bar, which I worked in up until I was 30 weeks pregnant, which was very hard work.
By seven months of my pregnancy, I was desperate for help so I reached out to Tower Hamlets for accommodation support. Just 10 days before I gave birth, I was moved to a studio flat in Bellingham.
I want to focus on my twins as much as possible to try to give them the best life imaginable
Around the same time, while at a hospital visit late into my pregnancy, I spotted a poster for Maternity Mates – an east London-based charity that provides emotional support for disadvantaged mums-to-be. When I was at The Children’s Centre in Tower Hamlets, they put me in touch with Maternity Mates, who quickly matched me with someone who had twins.
Her name was Shamima and she was invaluable support for me for the rest of my pregnancy. I never actually met her face-to-face before the birth though because of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.
We spoke on the phone; when I talked to her for the first time, she was so kind to me. She gave me hope, courage and kindness at a time when I needed it the most. She told me that I should feel proud of myself for what I was doing and that it would be hard but it would be worth it.
The month before I gave birth, Shamima would speak to me over the phone two to three times a week – checking how I was, how I was feeling, giving me advice and telling me everything was going to be OK. She helped me with what I should buy, practical advice on how to handle twins, the best way to breastfeed them and how best to prepare myself for when my babies arrived.
Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to attend antenatal or breastfeeding classes so I relied on Shamima for all the information that I needed.
For my birth, I had to have a C-section because I was having twins. One of the babies was quite low, which was scary but everything turned out fine in the end. My life is complete with my new babies, Agape and Andriana.
Giving birth was amazing and bringing life into the world felt very special. When I first saw my babies, even though they were so tiny, I kept thinking – how were they inside me? It’s an amazing feeling and I felt like my life finally had a purpose.
Shamima came to the hospital after the birth and brought nappies and other items I needed.
Once the twins were home, the difficulties still continued for me. Due to the continued Covid-19 restrictions, everything was over the phone or I had to go to appointments with health visitors for the appointments with the babies.
I would have to walk 15 minutes to get to the health checks for the twins. This was difficult as I’d just had a caesarian. The last visit to the health visitor when the twins were three months was in person at my flat and it made such a difference.
My twins bring me so much joy (Picture: Alda Malko)
Today, my twins are three years old and they complete my life. I want to focus on them as much as possible to try to give them the best life imaginable.
I work two to three evenings a week in a bar in Bank and I’m also training to become a childminder, which I really enjoy. This also helps me with my English.
I have since also gone on to train as a Maternity Mate and I have supported three women myself. The impact you have on mums makes you feel so good.
The women I have worked with thank me, but I say ‘no, thank you for allowing me to be next to you for the most beautiful moment of your life’.
To me, it is the greatest honour and I’m so grateful to be able to give back. The future for me looks very hopeful. I am excited to be giving back to other new mothers.
My twins bring me so much joy. I feel like I was put on this earth to be a parent to these girls. I hope my twins will be free. I want them to have a better future than me.
I want them to have experiences, to live their lives happily, to have the strength to learn and have opportunities.
The UK is the country for this to happen.
*Name has been changed.
For more information about Maternity Mates, visit their website here.