Twice as nice
I am writing this because across the Atlantic, in a hilly city by the sea, a lady I like very much has just had twins. So this post is not about cancer. It’s about that other cliché in my life, my double trouble, two’s a handful, twice as nice little blessings, and how we survived the first few years with them.
When I found out I was pregnant with twins I was petrified. A first time mum, with no idea how to care for one infant let alone two at the same time. I was ill prepared, especially for the deluge of cliché to come my way. Pregnant with twins equalled, in my case at least, vast like a mountain-side. People would stop and gawp in the street as I lumbered through Cambridge that hot April. “Twins is it?”, they would ask, apropos of nothing much. And then when they arrived, scrunched-up and alien-faced, the double buggy was peered into unceremoniously. “You’ve got your hands full”, people would helpfully comment as I levered one baby off my giant boob whilst burping the other in Starbucks. Sometimes the unwelcome interruptions were actually lifelines. Other mothers of twins – and the amazing woman I met I the Botanics with triplet boys – provided light at the end of my bleary tunnel telling me that really, after a year it all got easier and by the time they were toddlers they would play so nicely together. And they were right. So now, nearly four years in, I feel equipped to dole out some advice to my friend over the sea*.
I am obsessed with sleep. Always have been. But never more than when I was being woken every hour or two to feed a squalling baby. Then I became a frantic purchaser of baby sleep literature, trawling Amazon for, alternately, a plan to discipline the little buggers into sleep, Ferber-style, or something to soothe my conscience and tell me it was totally FINE for me to sleep on a giant mattress between two thirsty little boys, rolling alternately between them offering the soporific power of boob. After much angst I came to the conclusion that if a baby is a good sleeper then they will get there in the end. About 10 months in Oscar’s case. And if they carry the awake gene, like Isaac, then they will still be bothering you at 2am years later for a “tuck in”, to soothe a nightmare, or just to tell you that Oscar stole their sweetie at nursery. If I had to do it again, I’d put them in separate rooms earlier and rope Billy in for some leaving-them-to-howl training at, oh, about 6 months. Yep, and got them on the bottle earlier too, at least so that someone else could feed them night or day. And I’d stop worrying about it so much, because in the greater scheme of things the sleepless bit is a blink of the eye.
We must have spent nearly as much on twin paraphernalia as we will on our forthcoming nuptials. Our most useless purchases included: a side-by-side buggy that didn’t fit through the front door, meaning we had to wake the little screechers when we got to the house. A twin sling, costing a princely 120 quid. By the time it was safe for them to go in it their combined weight was approximately one car battery (too much for Billy if not for me). An inflatable breast-feeding cushion you cold strap to your front so you pranced around like the QE2. ‘Sleep Bear’, whose white noise was supposed to pacify infants into dreamland. Pah! All, all, failures. But we did make better investments. Various bouncy chairs which kept one child pacified (stupefied?) by vibrations whilst the other fed. TVs for the back of the car (plus early TV training: MoTs, remember the television is your friend, and the iPad your saviour..) A decent one-in-front of the other buggy which meant I could actually walk down Cambridge’s narrow pavements and through shop doorways. A room divider which penned the roaming infants in safely so I could go upstairs to the loo. A lovely doula who looked after the boys for a few hours most mornings so I could sleep (in retrospect a nanny would have been cheaper and better, but hey, what matters here is throwing cash at the problem by getting yourself help from whatever source you can, and as often as you can).
I am making it sound like an unmitigated nightmare. Let’s be honest, those magical first few months are as horrendous as they are joyful for lots of new parents, twins or not. I was kept emotionally afloat on a wave of oxytocin from my almost-constant breast feeding. God knows how Billy managed. But, just like those other MoTs told me it would, it got easier. Easier at 6 months, when they could hold a bottle themselves. At one when they could walk and get what they wanted rather than me fetching it. Easier when they could feed themselves (my advice here is to go for baby-led weaning. If you are going to get messy, why not get really messy?) Easier still at 18 months when the tractor obsession kicked in and they would be enthralled by live-streamed farm action from Wiltshire (thanks for everything, Tractor Ted) . And by two, biting had ceased to be the main mode of communication, and they had begun to play side by side. So boredom doesn’t happen in our house. And now, what could be better than hearing Oscar say to Isaac “come on, let’s play knights”” as they bundle off together in the park. Other children love them. Two playmates! How exciting. And they can share, cooperate and negotiate (you can have a lick of my ice cream if I can have a bit of yours) better than any pre-schoolers I know. And for Billy and I – well, we’ve truly been partners in this. We know how we hang under stress, which is pretty useful training for the Nuisance. Whether or not he intended it, Billy is a 50/50 dad because necessity demanded it (possibly 60/40, as he does all the crap bits like tooth-brushing and early mornings and I just swoop in for the glory). And now that the tough bit is over (at least till they hit 13), we wouldn’t have it any other way. Double the Transformers! Double the accidents and trips to A&E! Double the glove-putting-on in cold weather! Double the love.
*with apologies to the five or six other vastly more impressive twin mums I know who I suspect will be reading this and thinking I am a complete wuss because I didn’t have a toddler or another baby on my hands At The Same Time. Much respect to you, ladies.
p.s. I’m off down the foxhole again tomorrow. Back in 10 days. Hopefully. Bleurgh.