Mum Charlie Beswick is on a mission: to support fellow parents of children with a diagnosis or a disability.
It comes after she spent many years living with guilt and shame, certain that she had failed as a mother after one of her twin boys was born with a rare facial deformity.
Looking back, Charlie can see how her entire world shifted on its axis at this point – and the invisible burden it placed upon her.
Speaking frankly to the Mirror about the early days, Charlie said she was consumed with guilt – convinced that she had somehow caused it.
Charlie, of North Staffs, went into spontaneous labour at 32 weeks and had to undergo an emergency caesarean as one of the twins was breech.
Four hours later, a doctor visited the mum to inform her that while Oliver was fine, other twin Harry, now 17, had been diagnosed with Goldenhar syndrome.
This meant he had been born with no left eye, eye socket, nostril, left ear and a short underdeveloped jaw. Doctors also warned that he may have brain damage and never be able to walk.
Recalling the early days, Charlie said: “I felt like I was underwater. So it was as if I could hear it, but it was garbled, it was only later that I could process it.
“I think it was just the sheer shock of it, it was horrific. Also having my boys was the hardest day of my life, and one of the most traumatic.
“Later, my fiance at the time said all I kept repeating was ‘I’m sorry,’ I was totally zoned out. Instantly, I thought it was something I had done.
“Now, as a mentor, I know that many other parents carry that grief and burden too, very privately. I was accepting responsibility for something that was never my fault.
“But I was so desperate to find a reason and an answer – and in that, I turned on myself. I was incredibly hateful to myself.”
The twins stayed in special care for five weeks, while Charlie was discharged after seven days.
She said: “It was incredibly frantic, I was expressing my milk like a maniac as it was the only thing I could do and I felt like I had failed them.
“I was thinking, well I can’t have healthy babies so this is the one thing I can do. I was at the hospital from half 8 in the morning to 11pm at the night, trying to get to know them and get to grips with everything.”
She added: “The whole time I was telling myself my partner blamed me, I was a terrible mum while all the time, I was engaging with professionals.
“I was going through the motions with the professionals nodding and smiling in some sort of fog. I call that now ‘the lie we wear’ – the big smile we paint on our faces when someone says ‘if anything can do it, you can.’
“And it’s lovely and gorgeous that my friends and family had that belief in me but it set the bar really high. I felt I couldn’t say I was struggling.”
Medical tests later confirmed Harry would be able to walk – with Charlie and her partner ‘holding their breath’ as he underwent further tests.
“Instead of celebrating the small things, we were holding our breath until his tests came back. I remember feeling happy for the first time when we learnt he might walk,” added the mum.
“But all the things I’d expected and taken for granted or planned, it was just erased with seconds. It had to be replaced with something new I’d had to look for.”
Harry was later diagnosed with autism – prompting Charlie to once again acknowledge that he was taking a different path than the one she had expected.
Charlie said: “It was a huge battle with myself, it was only my failure not realising how gorgeous the twins are. Although I could only see my failure, it wasn’t correct. I don’t want that for other mums, I want them to be confident and calm.”
Following this early stress, Charlie started training as a teacher – and married her partner – with everything on the surface ‘looking great’.
But she continued to struggle – as she carried the guilt and grief that had started after her children were born.
When the twins turned four, the couple split – under the weight of her guilt, general sleep deprivation and undiagnosed post-natal depression.
She also later left her full-time teaching role as the demands of also being a full-time carer took their toll.
In 2010, as she grappled with severe depression, Charlie’s mum persuaded her to visit the doctor where she was prescribed with antidepressants.
She said: “That was the turning point for me, I felt completely ashamed. But it was the one thing that changed everything for me.
“I got my rational self back. I stayed on the medication for two and a half years and it got me out of my own head. I allowed myself to realise I had never let the boys down, and see that they are my greatest achievement in life.”
Now the mum-of-two acts as a mentor to other mums with a life altered by their baby’s disability, alongside her parenting blog and Instagram account.
She has created a community support group on Facebook called Send Gin and Cheese for mums whose children have a disability, diagnosis or additional needs to help, support and empower each other.
She said: “It’s a group to be around mums who totally get it, it takes someone else in your tribe.
“And we can celebrate small things. For example, Harry is severely autistic and functions around four or five years old.
“That comes with many challenges, so when he tried some cherries the other day, it was a massive thing that the community really got and celebrated with me.”
Charlie from Stoke-on-Trent has shared her story as part of Twins, Triplets and More Week, which runs from 4 July to 10 July and celebrates everything about life with multiples.
Charlies said: “It’s not easy having one baby, nevermind two and for me – it was super useful to have that community how challenging it can be.
“It was brilliant to have that space during that space to chat about my family doubling overnight from two from four.”
Shauna Leven, Chief Executive of Twins Trust, said: “Twins, Triplets and More Week is a chance to celebrate everything about life with multiples.
“We are here for all families of multiples, whether they need advice or support to help them on their parenting journey.”