Two years ago, my life changed dramatically when I found out I was pregnant with twins.
The initial realisation that I might be pregnant came during a holiday in New Zealand with my husband and 2-year-old daughter. The seedy feeling of car sickness just didn’t go away after getting out of the car. A quick count on my fingers suggested my period was late; this was a surprise, as I was on the Pill. We hadn’t even gotten around to discussing if or when we were going to try for more kids.
When I told my husband his response was, “What? How?” (“Well, Dear, when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much…” Believe me, he’s usually a very intelligent person!)
By the time we returned from our holiday, we had wrapped our heads around the idea of adding to our family. A trip to the GP confirmed my suspicions, and she sent me off for a dating ultrasound. At the ultrasound, with a very full bladder (seriously, how much water did I really need to drink?!), the first words from the sonographer’s mouth were, “Ummm, do twins run in the family?”
To say I was blown away was an understatement. I felt like a bottomless pit had opened up before me, tears welled up and I started swearing so much that Deadpool would have blanched. (If the sonographer ever reads this, I unreservedly apologise for my potty mouth).
On the drive home, thoughts flew around my head at a million miles an hour. I had just reached the point with my daughter where I felt I had this parenting thing under control. I was rocking the work/life balance, and for the first time since the birth of my daughter I felt my mood was consistently positive after a long bout of mild post-natal depression. Now I was 8 weeks pregnant with twins! How the hell was I going to do this? Correction: how the hell were we going to do this? We didn’t have family nearby, with my own family interstate and my in-laws living out of Sydney. How was my daughter going to adjust?
On the drive home, my morning sickness hit me in earnest. As with many expectant mums of multiples, the phrase “morning sickness” was a misnomer; the vomiting started as soon as we pulled into the driveway and continued non-stop for the next 14 weeks. The next morning I phoned my GP for urgent help and even though she was fully booked, the very sweet receptionist squeezed me in. My doctor gave me a script for “the good stuff” along with a referral to a great psychologist.
The following months of the pregnancy were definitely a challenge. I had blitzed through my first pregnancy, with very little nausea and even less vomiting. Now, my morning sickness was so bad that although I managed to stay hydrated and keep small amounts of food down, I couldn’t keep it hidden from those closest to us. We decided to tell our parents immediately; I also told my boss and immediate work colleagues, as I was sure there would be occasions where I would have to “disappear” for a while. Everyone kept my “little” secret until I was ready to tell the world. My lovely 2-year-old decided that now was a great time to test boundaries, playing the “running away game” at the shops and on walks. She also decided that she didn’t need her daytime sleep any more, just when I needed it most.
Emotionally, I started having mood swings and panic attacks. I was seeing a great psychologist who helped me to develop the tools to manage them, but what I really needed was a plan. A friend from work who was also a mother of twins recommended that I contact the local branch of the Australian Multiple Birth Association (AMBA). My husband and I attended one of the Expectant Parent Evenings hosted by our local club, the North West Sydney Multiple Birth Association (NWSMBA), where we had an opportunity to learn from those who had “been there, done that”. We took away some great advice, from what type of equipment to buy or hire, to what to look for in a new (read: larger) car, through to how to feed and settle more than one crying newborn at a time. On another occasion, I went along to one of the club’s New Parent Morning Teas. Here I saw first-hand that it was possible to not only survive parenting multiples, but to maintain your sense of humour!
Due to my rapidly expanding girth, my increased fatigue and the physical nature of my job, I went on maternity leave at 30 weeks. Then at 1 am on the 26th August, at 34 weeks, my waters broke while I was in bed. To my credit, I made it to the bathroom without soiling the bed or our new carpet – my husband later commented that he hadn’t seen me move that fast in months! After calls to our stand-by baby sitters and to the birthing unit, we jumped in the car and headed to the hospital. After rapidly progressing through labour, my twin boys were born via emergency caesarean at 3:30 that afternoon.
The boys spent nearly 4 weeks in the Special Care Nursery. During this time I fed them expressed breast milk every 4 hours, with my not-quite-three year old acting as my lactation mentor (“We need more milk for the babies, Mummy”). Guilt was foremost on my mind: for not being at the hospital enough with the boys when I was at home, then for not being home with my daughter when I was at the hospital. Finally, after some minor health issues with one of the twins, our boys came home at 4 weeks of age.
Being at home with a newborn can be quite isolating; being at home with newborn twins, triplets or more is even more so. It is so time-consuming just looking after the basic necessities of feeds, nappy changes, settling, and washing, that it seemed so hard to even get out the front door. Popping up to the shops five minutes away for bread and milk was a like a military operation. I had to prepare everything during one sleep, then the whole trip that used to take 15 minutes solo would take the better part of an hour and a half with three kids in tow. I craved the company of fellow adults so much so that the supermarket was exciting, but the twins were magnets for what sometimes felt like everyone’s attention. As a supermarket employee once put it, we were the local celebrities. Whilst I knew that the attention was kind and well-intended, I was often racing against the clock to get errands done before one or more of the kids lost their cool. I often had to make an effort to point out Big Sister too, as she had now become invisible. Luckily she was very proud of her little brothers and took it all in stride.
Once the boys were vaccinated, I started to live for the weekly New Parent Morning teas at the club. There was always an extra pair of hands ready and willing to cuddle an unsettled baby while I chased away the sleep deprivation with copious amounts of hot coffee. (Enjoying a coffee when it’s hot is even rarer when you have multiples.) It didn’t matter if I turned up in daggy yoga pants and no make-up – these parents, and sometimes grandparents, just got it.
As the twins started walking, things didn’t get any easier. I felt that I couldn’t visit friends or family easily; the boys were constantly on the go and I spent the entire time chasing them down and ensuring they didn’t destroy the joint. (I am happy to lend them out to test out your child proofing efforts!) It still takes two adults to supervise them at playgrounds, and even our own backyard is a challenge for one parent.
Fast forward to today and the boys are thriving, 18-month-old whirlwinds of fun. Together, they are a perfect storm of exploration and destruction. The boys are developing in their own unique ways which constantly amazes me and my husband, plus the bond they share with each other and their big sister is beautiful to watch.
As I reflect on the last two years, I realise how lucky I’ve been. My husband is very hands-on and we are both fortunate enough to have understanding bosses who gave us flexibility at work. We’ve had great support from the people around us: our families when they’ve been able to visit, a few close friends and my excellent GP. All of our kids are healthy (touch wood) and my anxiety is under control. But the biggest source of emotional support has been from the fantastic parents I’ve met through the wonderful community of NWSMBA.
Written by: Nicole Chapman
North West Sydney Multiple Birth Association (NWSMBA) is a not-for-profit community association run by volunteers. We provide members with support from other member families around the experiences and issues relating to raising multiple birth children. Through our member and family network, we provide information and practical support to families of multiples. We offer opportunities for families to form friendships and share the experiences of raising multiples.
March 13 – 20 2016 is Multiple Birth Awareness Week, with the theme “Leave no family behind”.
Multiple birth pregnancies are associated with increased mental and physical health risks and that’s just the beginning. We’re working to further establish networks that support families throughout the cycle of pregnancy, birth, pre-school, school, adulthood and creating lifelong connections.
Families with multiples represent 2% of the Australian population and they are exposed to:
- High-risk pregnancies
- Premature birth
- Special needs
- Pre- and postnatal depression
- Social isolation
- Financial hardship
- Schooling issues
- Identity issues
- Family relationships
If you or someone you know has or is expecting twins, triplets or more, feel free to contact NWSMBA on 0498 688 046, or find your nearest club via the link http://www.amba.org.au/clubfinder