Sunday, 6 June 2010

Three under two. A survivor's story.

I mentioned yesterday that I'm now a published writer!  Admittedly it's only the South West London Twins' Club magazine, but still, everyone's got to start somewhere...

Unaccountably, the SWLTC (ooh, an acronym!  Get me!) magazine does not yet have an online publication, so for your (horrified) delectation, here is the nappy-filled story of the last nearly 18 months of my life:


Wherever I go, as I walk down the road there is a chorus of shocked gasps.  Every so often someone plucks up the courage to stop me.  They invariably start off “You’ve got your hands full”. 
Let me explain. There are five of us: me, B and the three girls.  L is just three and A and S are identical girls now aged nearly 18 months.  There are just over 19 months between them so for four and a bit months I had three under two, and I had three under three for a year beyond that.
Answer to the next question: No, this wasn’t part of the plan. But I don’t regret it for a second. We got pregnant very quickly second time round and then it was (they are) twins.  How could you regret that? It’s two wonderful things in one sentence.
Which is not to say that I don’t have my hands full, and that it hasn’t been hard.  So here are some highlights (and lowlights) from the last year and a bit, along with some tips for how I (and my marriage) have survived thus far.  I’m not sure how much of it differs from the advice I would give someone having twins who didn’t have an older child, but it worked for me...
“Never refuse an offer of help”
My wonderful sister-in-law also has twins and an older child and she said this to me. In fact, I think she threatened to tattoo it on the back of my eyeballs.  She was right. For anyone in my position I will say and say and say again you will need help.  At the very least for the first few weeks and if possible for longer.  You have to decide what option is right for you, but we ran away to stay with my mother-in-law in Scotland for the first four weeks.  When we got back (and for the first three days between being out of hospital and going to Edinburgh) we had an utterly, utterly, can’t praise her highly enough, wonderful doula.  Angela looked after children, changed nappies, cooked, cleaned, ironed, made me cups of tea, supported me through breastfeeding, talked to me, advised me and generally made life so much easier than it could ever have been without her.  Other people go down the maternity nursery route, but, as with so much else in this parenting lark, it’s what works for you.  The only thing I can say is that having help will work for you.
Make time for the toddler
A and S are now nearly one and a half.  The impression I have is that most children that age are down to one nap a day.  They aren’t.  I’m hanging on desperately to their morning nap because that is my time with L. 
This is even more true when the babies are tiny.  Tiny babies need feeding, changing and putting to bed.  Toddlers need your attention and time.  However tiny and vulnerable your babies are, don’t forget that they won’t notice who changes their nappies.  Your toddler, on the other hand, will definitely notice who reads her bedtime story.   She will also be feeling confused and probably a little displaced by the arrival in her life of two usurpers.  She will need love and attention.   In the early weeks, when I was post c-s and therefore pretty useless at picking her up, we found that it worked quite well for B to devote himself to her while I concentrated on the babies.    Either way, she needs reassurance and, certainly for us, that had to come from Mummy and Daddy.
Make time for the babies
For the first 12 weeks of their lives, I had all three children full time.  Fair enough really, they’re my children.  But then I realised that the only times I picked A and S up were when they needed changing or feeding.    Otherwise they were left to kick on the babygym, or in a bouncy chair, while I rushed around after an incredibly demanding (although probably no more than most!) toddler. 
After much beating myself up about not being a good enough mother, B talked some sense into me and we put L into nursery two days a week.  Clearly there’s a financial aspect to this (it’s where my maternity pay went), but if you can do it, I would say it’s definitely worth it.  Failing that, a regular play date, some time with the grandparents, even a Saturday trip to a cafe with Daddy....  However you manage it, I think it was really good for the babies to have time with just me, and for me to have time with just them; to remember that I was a mother of tiny babies, and that tiny babies do, occasionally, need their Mummy.
One of the things that I think L had in immeasurable amounts more of than S and A was time just being cuddled.  Cuddling a tiny baby is natural. Except when you have twins.  When you have twins you find you’re too busy juggling and you feel guilty if you cuddle one, because then you’re not cuddling the other.  My time with just them was spent rectifying this: cuddling them, letting them fall asleep on me, or just cooing at them in a silly, besotted mum way.  None of which can be done with a toddler around. Believe me.
Make time for yourself (and your marriage)
Every now and then it all gets too much and I lose it in a dramatic (but fortunately not usually public) manner.
When that happens, B has now learned to phone a friend.  He shoves me out of the door to have a cup of coffee, or go shopping for clothes that aren’t the size they used to be, or get my hair cut, or something.  And it makes a huge difference.  It’s only maybe once every couple of months, but I would have gone mad without it.
And on even rarer occasions, we go out together.  We get someone to babysit and we go and walk by the river, or we drive aimlessly in the car (sorry environment), and we talk about stuff that matters, and not just our children.  It helps.  We’re still talking to each other, so it must do!
Believe in yourself
You will find, and I’m sure this goes for twins “on their own” as well as those with an older sibling, that people have all sorts of ideas of what you can and can’t, or will and won’t, do.
You will know, because you’ve done it before, the things that you think you can do, and those that you can’t.  Or those that you want to do.  Or even those that you’d like to have a go at.
I found that confidence made a huge difference to me when dealing with all sorts of things.  From having the courage to ignore the midwives who said that twins couldn’t be exclusively breast-fed to politely disagreeing with the people in John Lewis who said I couldn’t get three children into my pushchair...
Plan, plan and plan again.  Then change the plans.
I have found, though, that confidence needs to go with military-style planning.  I thought that my days of spontaneity were behind me when I had one child.  Now I realise that those were heady days of last minute plans and carefree changes of mind.
At Christmas 2007 B’s brother got engaged to one of my best friends from university.  They planned a Christmas 2008 wedding.  When we decided to try for another baby in early 2008, the one thing we had in mind was that we couldn’t be so pregnant that we couldn’t go to their wedding.
Of course then I got pregnant straight away.  “But that’s ok, because I’ll be 36 weeks pregnant but I can still go to the wedding.  It’ll only be a problem if it’s twins”...
Clearly, we could have said “sorry, we can’t come.  We’re having two babies on the 11th and you’re getting married on the 20th. In Edinburgh.  It just can’t be done.”  But we wanted to go, and they wanted us to be there.  So we planned, and we planned and we planned.  We had contingency plans and alternative plans and more plans.  And we knew, at any point, that if we decided to give up and stay at home, we could.
But we went, and I think, having planned it and thought about it and said in my head “We are going to do this” we could. 
That said, we do also have a deliberate “Abandon Ship!”  policy. If the plans go up in smoke, we are not afraid to run away... (taking the children with us, generally).
Know your limits
Plan.  But don’t overreach yourselves.  When L turned two, lots of my NCT friends started potty training.  We didn’t.  We knew our limits, and with four-month-old, exclusively breast-fed twins, potty training was beyond them.
She’s now 3 and a bit and she’s been totally potty trained and dry at night for over six months.  We started later but we’ve caught up, and I don’t think she’s been permanently damaged by having a few more months in nappies than some of her friends.  In fact, it may even have made her more enthusiastic about the whole process.   Even if we’re not looking forward to it next time round.
One last tip:
Measure your car. Lots of them don’t fit three toddler-sized car seats across the back.  Yours will need to...  We nearly learned that one the hard way.
And the good news
Don’t read this if your twins are your first babies...
When we went to the SWLTC new members evening the room was full of lots of very pregnant women, their scared looking husbands and partners, and two couples looking less pregnant but more tired.  We were one of those couples, A&S having been born about eight weeks earlier.  Oddly enough, the other couple (hello if you’re reading this!) also had an older child, of about the same age as our eldest.    We got chatting and were united in our conviction that we were enormously relieved we hadn’t had twins first.
Parenting a tiny baby, even two tiny babies, is, I am absolutely convinced, much easier second (I can’t comment on third or fourth!) time round.    This time round you won’t, I promise
  • Poke the babies in the middle of the night to check they are still breathing and then wake them up and spend the next four hours trying to get them back to sleep. You’ll know better.
  • Worry about whether you can/can’t/will/won’t breastfeed/allow controlled crying/wean at four months/give vitamin k/whatever else the media is hyping at the time. You will know, from experience, that the best thing for your babies is the thing that works for you and them and you’ll have worked out that worrying about what the Health Visitor, NCT or Daily Mail says is counter-productive at best.
  • Refuse to see anyone because they might give your babies a cold, and as a result spend the first six weeks of their lives housebound, miserable and lonely.
  • Find yourself stranded miles from home with a baby covered in poo and no nappies and wipes.  You will, like me, have learned from experience...

And you will:
  • Know how to change a nappy, get a baby (even two babies) bathed and dressed, make up a bottle, assemble a breast pump, get out of the house in under an hour and a half...
  • Be a team.  B and I muddled around each other for quite a while when we first had L before we worked out who was good at what.  Second time round we just knew.
  • Know what is important to you as a parent, and what things you can (and must) do to stay sane. 

I’m sure we would have coped if A&S had been our first but I’m equally sure it would have been a lot harder doing that terrifying new parent learning curve with two babies, and not a mere one...

And the one thing I haven’t talked about
Sibling love.
I haven’t written anything about this, because the honest answer to any question on the relationship between my girls is “I just don’t know”.   Mostly they seem to get on, and mostly L has been fine with them throughout.  But she has had her moments, and there are still, at least once a day, incidents of hitting, or snatching, or pushing them over.  But there are now also moments of real kindness and love that make me melt with pride.   How have we got to this point?   And how do we encourage the good and reduce the bad?  I’m afraid I just don’t know.    My guess is that by reassuring L that she is not being displaced and by reinforcing her good behaviour, in this as in everything else with a toddler, she’ll get there in the end.  If there’s a magic answer though, I’d love to know.
Once again, I suspect that we’ll be making it up as we go along...


  1. What a good post, I loved reading this because it gives such insight into life with three very little ones. I think you have some good advice. I find spending enough quality time with each of my 3 hard, especially as I'm now a WAHM. Every second of every day is taken up by something and I really have to make a conscious effort to spend time with each of them. These years may be hard work for you now, but the closeness between your girls will hopefully mean they grow up at the same time as each other (is this me secretly kidding myself that life somehow gets easier as your children grow older?). Great post.

  2. I really love this post....not that I need any advice on more babies here..ever! I'm sure that really will help a lot of people whether having twins or not. X

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  4. wow..great post. Little Miss P is 17 months and I am due in 9 weeks so the age gap between my kids will be the same. Although I have just the one in my tum (although its big enough to fit an army!) I have devoured your tips! Wish me luck!!! You sound like you definately have your head in the right place for your brood! xx

  5. Great post! Even for someone without twins. (You made me cry in my vulnerable seven months pregnant state - but the good touched kind of cry.)

  6. Well done on your article in SWLTC! Makes excellent reading. Seems so long ago I had a baby to worry about yet it all cam floding back to me (especially the poking of sleeping child!)

  7. It's true... you have (got your hands full)! Makes me tired just reading about it, but it also makes for a fabulous article. Well done!

  8. Thanks for your intelligent comment on the Dear England article. Much appreciated.

    By the way, we've also published articles about supporting England too:

    All the best.

  9. Congrats on the article. It does sound manic, more extreme version of having a second (let alone 3rd!). The main thing that comes through is that, with help, you'll cope. Somehow. Lovely article. x

  10. What a great post, a wonderful insight in to your life. I have a small gap 15 months between the boys and it really pee'd me off when people asked if it was planned. I used to ignore them and just say they were both very very wanted!

  11. Not having twins but i did have 4 under 5 at one point. I can relate to all your points just wouldnt have been able to write them so eloquatly

  12. A great post - especially the planning and planning and then being ok to change plans if things change bit

  13. oh well done you! soliciting i see? and yup, we all make it up as we go along. nothing else for it I think?


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