You’re having twins! Lawks!

Wot no milk?!

Given my public ranting campaigning over the baby milk FARCE, lots of new people have come to this blog (woo!) so I thought it might be helpful to write an open letter to folks who’ve just seen two little tadpoles on the scan. Here’s what I wish we’d known and done and not done. And then a few cases of where we’ve got it right too!

Dear Parents-to-be

So, you’re expecting twins! Congratulations! Just steel yourself for the fact that most people’s first words won’t be ‘congratulations’, they’ll be distinctly unhelpful sharp drawings in of breath or ‘sh*t’…

Someone really needs to design more cards for twins!

Someone really needs to design more cards for twins!

Get some flyers printed immediately to hand out to the zillion people who stop you in the street with a tailored version of:

  • Yes, they’re twins
  • No, they’re not identical. You can tell that really by looking, can’t you.
  • No, they’re both girls. The dresses are a bit of a giveaway.
  • No, we didn’t do IVF. And actually that’s a bit cheeky.
  • No, we don’t have ‘an evil one’, thank you very much, you strange old lady you..

Be prepared to become a bit of a local celebrity. Every baby is special but people are peculiarly fascinated with twins. Sometimes that’s lovely – that strangers share your wonder. But sometimes you can feel like you’ve given birth to bearded ladies.

Buy shares in muslin factories. Not muslim factories. That’s quite another matter (though probably very successful in their own right I’m sure). Baby books recommend a layette of 6. I bought 12 initially. And then another 12 on Amazon within a few days of them being born. I think we now have 72 but we still frequently seem precariously close to running out. And you can always use them to make jam with all the spare time you have on maternity leave. JOKE!

Having twins is a bit of a numbers game. Two of them. Doubling up on some things; buying extra large for others. But those numbers apply to much more than just Stuff. Acquaint yourself with all the numbers as that way you’ll be prepared for the worst (but hopefully what happens will be the best). If you work, assume that you will have to go on maternity leave much sooner than a singleton, and have this conversation early doors with HR. 60% of twins are born before 34 weeks. You have much more frequent prenatal hospital appointments (weekly scans and consultations towards the end, even more so if you’re at risk of twin to twin transfusion). Plus, given we’re not designed to carry two, pregnancy can (not always) be much harder. I was in agony with a split pelvis, broken ribs (from the inside), and could hardly walk from about 7 months. In hindsight, I worked far too long. I remember one meeting where I literally had to present while lying on the floor. Commuting was horrendous (I had one woman refuse to give up her seat because I didn’t have a ‘baby on board’ badge, despite being the size of the Olympic Park). You just end up in a hideous guilt trip: that you’re not doing your job properly, and that you’re not taking care of the little beans/yourself.

Do not, on any account, move house at 7 months. Even if you live in a shoebox. Frankly, most twins could fit in an actual one. I was in constant white-faced panic that I’d go into labour pre- or mid- move. So much so I may well have done. And then you’re just this big lumbering whale when it comes to carrying and unpacking boxes.

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Yes, it’s blue. We’re renting!

Make sure everything’s ready – nursery set up, hospital bags packed, you’re off work, and nothing major is happening – by about 28 weeks. Which hopefully then gives you 10 weeks (most hospitals induce twins at 38 weeks if they haven’t come out already) to slob on the sofa, eat cake, consider trying out the kids’ potty because you can’t face the stairs to the bathroom, and watch that Borgen box set you never got round to.

This also impacts on Dad. If there is any way whatsoever he can get more than the standard two weeks’ paternity leave, try. Otherwise that may all get used up while you’re still in hospital. You really need him at home with you. Especially if, as happens with most multiples, you’ve had a Caeserean. Do not under any circumstances do what we did and agree that, within 10 days of you coming home, he can work 400 miles away from home and weekly commute. You will go pop; I did.

You may be as proud as a Queen, and as poor as a church mouse, but GET HELP. If you can afford it, try to get a maternity nurse. They’re an extra pair of hands, help your confidence levels and, most importantly, their job is to leave you with the twins in A Routine (more anon). If you can’t afford it, humble that pride and ask all the friends and family who would be spending money on endless cute outfits that they’ll grow out of in a week to subsidise her instead. Lots of people will offer practical help too; take them up on it. Don’t have ‘I’m fine’ as the default, and wrong, answer to any requests. Draw up a list of what would be helpful so people can be assigned tasks. For example my MIL was brilliant at cooking lots of family meals and bringing them round.

And then invest in outside help afterwards too. You CAN look after twins yourself, and run the house/shopping/cooking/cleaning/look after other children/occasionally brush your teeth. You can. But don’t. None of you will be happy. Remember – you are their world. If you’re on the verge of a breakdown, that’s not a nice world for them to be in.

I’ve sometimes felt guilty about having help. After all, lots of people have more than one child, and cope perfectly well. But, by definition, in ‘normal’ situations one child is older, and more biddable. There are lots of practical issues about having two small babies (just try the wartime mission that is bathing two of them safely on your own) but also emotional ones too which are, in many ways, just as hard. When people say ‘double trouble’ to me I say, no, it’s DIFFERENT trouble. After all, if you’re making up one portion of cheesey tuna pasta, there’s no problem in making two. What I have found hardest of all is when they’re both upset, and the dreadful Sophie’s Choice of deciding which baby to comfort. And also the fact that you can’t do any of that delicious basking in your baby’s wonderfulness. Lying with one of them on your bed and gazing into each other’s eyes. Getting to know them as their own little person. Proper one-on-one play. Having someone to help out means you can whisk one twin off and spend a lovely half hour with them. Just them. So they grow to know that they’re one whole person, not just half a set of twins. Otherwise life with twins can become very mechanical; make sure you have space for some joy.

High five!

High five!

On which note, the numbers are also stark when it comes to post natal depression. Assume you will get it, and make sure you, and Dad, know the warning signs. Officially it stands at 36% for Mums of multiples; TAMBA (and other twin Mums) put it much higher. It’s no surprise – a devastating cocktail of double the hormones, probable hospitalisation, an EMCS, fatigue, the physical drain of breastfeeding two, the sheer logistical difficulty of it all, probably not eating properly, being even more housebound than most new Mums (even in London there were loads of shops I couldn’t get into with a double buggy, public transport is a no-no, plus it’s just so much effort in the early days to get them ready and out the house when you’re shattered and most things are a mouseclick away)…The wonderful news is that it’s completely treatable. Your brain’s been chemically altered; medicine can alter it back again. Do that early. There are no prizes for struggling through and your twins will suffer as a result.

So, The Routine. Get one. I got Gina Ford’s book and whilst not following her (often slightly crazy) advice to the letter, I DID follow her timetables. Feeding/putting down one baby on demand is masochistic enough; doing it with two, who may well have very different demands, is practically suicidal. It means the first few weeks will be hard. I remember sitting on the steps outside their nursery sobbing as I listened to theirs. But it means we’ve had babies who sleep 7pm to 7am from about 2 months. And it’s amazing how rosier the world looks when you’ve had a proper sleep. Their milk and meal times and their naps are not just set in stone; they’ve been laser drilled into it and I breathe fire on anyone who tries to alter it by a minute.

Talking to other twin devotees of The Routine about this it may explain why a lot of twins, contrary to the ‘double trouble’ prediction are actually quite calm and amenable babies. They know what’s going to happen, when. Positively Pavlovian. You put them in their cot and they’re straight in with the thumb and up with the teddy because that’s Just What Happens. To such an extent, a friend of ours can’t leave hers at the nursery all day because even at aged three they’re expecting their lunchtime nap!

I’ve written extensively in the post Of Cabbages and Slings  (http://tinyurl.com/cple2en) about what products to buy, and not buy. Get Bumbos early. They’re brilliantly handy when it comes to bottle feeding two little people at the same time. Get highchairs early too. Buy cot mattresses, buggies and car seats new; buy everything else secondhand. It’s crazy buying new for a tadpole who, if they kept growing at the same rate as they do in their first two years, would be a 29 feet tall frog by the time they’re ten. Especially when you have two. Learn to love a BOGOFF. On no account actually visit a supermarket (none of the twin buggies have a big enough tray for shopping anyway); do it all online and bulk buy. Become an eBay powerseller/buyer. I’m operating a two out, two in policy ie I don’t buy any new clothes till I’ve sold what they have.

Cheesy tuna pasta, sweet as

Cheesy tuna pasta, sweet as

Also works as effective face mask

Also works as effective face mask

If you’re going to attempt breastfeeding a) get as much help as you can in hospital b) buy nipple shields and Jellonet beforehand (it’s like gauze impregnated with Vaseline, used for burns and wounds, and you can wear it in between feeds). The problem is with two that you can never rest one boob, so for the first week or so it can be tear-inducing agony in the small hours. And don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. We’re not meant to.

If you’re not on it already, switch to the cheapest dual fuel tariff with heavy usage you can find. Assume that the tumbledrier will be on twice a day, you’ll have the heating on all day for them and you, microwaves and kettles will be on all the time (also get another kettle especially for bottles as it is The Single Most Annoying Thing In The World when you’ve got water to the perfect temperature for milk and someone decides to make a cup of tea).

Tea. Resign yourself to never having a hot cup thereof again. Or buy a thermos.

Stock the freezer with ready meals and hang onto every takeaway menu that plops through the door. You ain’t going nowhere, honey. And if you’re breastfeeding you can star in your own series of Woman vs Food. Guilt-free gorging. In fact, treat the whole thing just like Christmas; cook in advance, both literally and figuratively. Assume you will have no time as soon as they’re born so, heck, you may as well write their wedding speeches now.

I’ve also written at great length (takes almost as long to read as the birth itself!) about our experience with hospitals and twins in Bumblers, Beeyatches and Bonny Babes (http://tinyurl.com/d78w2yg). Essentially, assume that you’ll be surrounded by the incompetent and mean-spirited, swat up on your rights, and be ready to go into battle for your babies, and you. Scroll down to the end of the birth story post for all my recommendations.

Find other local twin Mums. Twinsclubuk and TAMBA should have lists of local clubs. Go and meet them beforehand to get some tips and make friends so you have someone to call and ask all the endless ‘how the blazes’ questions.

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Borrow two large and heavy dolls from a small child and practise how you will lift two babies safely, how you’ll manage getting them both into the bathroom, undressed, into the bath, not drowned, out of the bath, dressed and downstairs…and how you’ll get them both onto the sofa, then onto the breastfeeding cushion, positioned, and then off again. Or if you’re bottle feeding, how you can prop one up in the corner of the sofa and one in your arm, one handed. There are some useful clips on Youtube to help!

Tell everyone in good time that you don’t want to do the matchy matchy look with twins (unless you do!)

Give us your black market milk. Or the teddy gets it.

Give us your black market milk. Or the teddy gets it.

If you have high maintenance hair, start growing it out. You may just manage to visit a hairdresser once a year to get your fringe cut.

Never ever let onto your partner in the early days that you sometimes get them confused too! Even if they’re not identical, babies (whisper this) all look pretty similar when they’re wee. Find a secret sign to distinguish them (Romilly had a frilly top to her ear).

Keep a chart each day which sets out how long each has drunk, from which boob (TMI men but you often have a less efficient boob), and what’s come out the other end, and when. This helps avoid the nightmare one triplet Mum told me about when she realised she’d fed one of them three times and one of them had had nothing!!! The chart can then be modified to include what they’ve eaten too.

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Lower your expectations. Your house may have been featured in Elle Deco; your dinner parties rivalled Nigella. Just getting through each day, one day at a time, with twins should earn you admiration enough from your family, friends and the world at large.

But finally, feel blessed. I talked about numbers at the beginning. The incidence of twins is very low (we think it’s higher than it is because we tend to notice them more, because of their specialness). You have two little miracles in your tummy; you are a latterday Mary! ‘Normals’ don’t get the heartstopping wonderfulness of watching two mites snuggled up in the same Moses basket sucking each other’s thumbs. One year on, mine have just worked out that they can tickle each other too . Endless hilarity. I honestly think if the airline sit us together next month then the three hours to Portugal can be spent perfectly amusingly if I just take their socks off.

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Oh, and very last finally – never have sex again. Unless you’re mad. I was told my chance of any subsequent pregnancy being twins – or MORE! – was 90% based on a combination of age, and the fact my body is obviously deciding to have one last hurrah. No, no, NO!

Most of all, best of British as you head over the trenches. You will survive. It may be double the pooh, in all senses, but it’s very frequently double the joy too. And those moments more than compensate. It also just seems, well, very Alpha Female and efficient; you get a nuclear family in one (very long, very sore) push. So well done you!

I’m very happy to answer anybody’s questions online or over the phone or in person if you’re adding to the Wirral’s paucity of multiples. I have Eccles cakes!

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