Monday, 19 May 2014

How Did I Do Two Under Two?

Like anything horrific and traumatic and stressful, it's always best to speak about it long after it has happened.

And now that my boys are finally old enough to feed themselves, play by themselves for a degree of time and are actually sleeping for most of the night (albeit in our bed - I don't care, I'm just very grateful for those extra hours of sleep) I can finally, quite safely admit that we are out of that crazy, crazy time (touch wood.  Oh sweet gods of toddler/small child behaviour, please don't think I am being flippant or horrible...I love you, thank you for the gift of good boys you have bestowed upon us).

I had no idea how much I could do on so little an amount of sleep.

I had no idea how much pee, shit, puke and off milk I would be dealing with in one day.

I had no idea how much milk two small children could drink.

I have no idea how I moved house with a two year old and a six month old.

I have no idea how I managed to learn to drive at this time.

I have no idea how I managed to do an online course at Open University in this time.

I have no idea how I also then took on a full-time job in a bar at this time.

I have no idea how I did it.

Post-natal hormones clearly make me crazy enough to take on the world.

Ethan was born 3 weeks early.  Admitted to SCBU on birth, I didn't actually meet him until he was 8 hours old and the spinal tap had worn off enough for me to get into a wheelchair.  I met him at 4a.m.  The lights in the SCBU unit were dim and there were lots of babies in little plastic caves, naked and nappied, but warm and comfortable.

Off the CPAP and still on the feeding tube
My son stood out like a sore thumb on that ward - when Thomas was born he was 10lb 9oz, so my second son was always going to be big too.  And at 7lb 9oz and a half, he had been shaping up to challenge his brother in the weight category before his premature arrival.

Born breech (despite apparently being the right way round when the surgeon prepped for the C-Section - talk about bloody-minded.  I should have read the signs!  What kind of baby tries to escape his own birth by swimming back into his mother's rib cage?)

Ethan had difficulty breathing at birth, so was put on a CPAP machine to help him with his oxygen levels.

I didn't get to hold him until the next day and he was off the CPAP completely, but even then he still had to be tube-fed for a couple of days and was plastered with various monitors.

Joining me in my hospital room!
Thankfully his stay in SCBU was short, and second time around I was feeling fairly confident.  I established a good feeding routine in hospital when he finally came to join me in my little side-room and I was adept at getting up in the night to feed him at routine times.  All was going swimmingly, despite us having to stay in hospital for a few more days than planned due to me contracting an infection. 

Battered, bruised, anaemic and on hard antibiotics!  Happy days!
I think his stay in SCBU was actually beneficial - instead of the painful first couple of nights in hospital, in agony, trying to get to a screaming baby while my hormones made me sick with panic and fear because my stomach muscles didn't allow me to lean over to get him, I got some much needed recovery time.

Finally out of SCBU and nearly ready for home!
The first time Dave came to visit us with our eldest, I was shocked at how much Thomas had grown.  How had he grown so big?  So noisy?  So clumsy?  How the hell was I supposed to stop this huge, excited child from hurting my tiny little baby?  It was a funny feeling - overwhelming, and one that I'm almost ashamed to admit now.  Thomas had just turned 2 years old 2 weeks previously, but already I saw him as nothing but a huge destructive force.

It was so hard to see him as a baby too - especially as Ethan had been in SCBU.  Because he was.  It's something I hope he'll forgive me for.

At home, it was harder.

Settling into a routine at home was a lot harder with two extra people and a dog to deal with, never mind the excess of curious visitors.  I found it quite hard to cope.  My C-Section wound was still very fresh and I was wiped out by a long hospital stay, some pretty hard antibiotics that I was sent home with and some pretty persistent anaemia, not to mention the demanding breastfeeding/expressing routine that I'd set for myself.

My boobs were massive, and I went into production of milk like a well-established heffer - the freezer was full within weeks and I had extra to go around.  Which was just as well - as Dave had to go back to work just 4 days after I got home. Expressing with a screaming baby, a manic, unsettled toddler and a dog who needed to go out every few hours was a tough gig.

So how did I manage?

 What were my...

Top Ten Tips For Coping With Two Under 2?

Best day ever!
  1. This isn't only the first thing on my list, it's the most important.  BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  Yes, you've had a baby.  A BABY.  Which is a pretty damn big thing to have had come out of your body at one time, whichever way you achieved it.  So, I'm going to say it again: Be Kind To Yourself.  You might have the evening to yourself, you might have an hour when both kids are napping, you might get half an hour once a week, but make it YOURS.  It is for YOU.  It is not for washing bottles or cleaning or hanging out bed sheets, it is for you to relax, rejuvenate and to recover - which besides feeding the kids and making sure they don't open the front door is all you should be worrying about.  Because, Mama, if you are not right, your kids are not right.  They need a well-rested and happy Mama to look after them.  Me?  When Dave got in, or my mum popped round, or an auntie or uncle was around I always slept, shopped for clothes, went in the bath, went for a walk...anything to feel a bit more human.  Little things like this really help.
  2. IF YOU NEED HELP, ASK FOR IT.  Don't do what I did and soldier on.  This links in with my first point quite nicely.  I struggled.  It was tough.  And my hard-lady, hormone infested, macho self would not let me darken the door of anyone else. I have to admit, there were a few times where I presented myself on-line anonymously on a parenting forum, or phoned a parenting helpline to speak to someone. To lighten my load. .  If you don't feel like asking a real life person for help or even just a friendly ear, then please seek it out elsewhere and don't bottle it up.  This can lead to post-natal depression and basically a hard, horrible time for everyone involved.  Try posting on Mumsnet for some friendly moral support, ParentLine or PANDAS for some totally awesome and non-judgemetal support and advice.  If you feel really horrible, alert your health visitor, closest relative or friend or even doctor.  And don't panic! There's loads of help available, and none of it is to be ashamed or worried about.  Everyone falls down sometimes.  And everyone is entitled to a hand up.
    Two of the best things ever - a great husband and an awesome double pram!
  3. INVEST IN A DOUBLE PRAM.  I cannot iterate how much, as a non-driver at the time, one of these contraptions saved my life.  My double buggy, although quite hefty, allowed me freedom from the four walls of my house on dark days.  It let me take two, sometimes grouchy children, out of the house for some fresh air and exercise to lift and change their moods,  It allowed me to go to the shops for milk when we ran out.  It was the basis of any good day out and allowed Thomas freedom to walk and rest as he needed, while letting Ethan sleep.  I recently tried to sell my doubler at a second-hand market and couldn't do it.  I wasn't quite ready to let go of such a huge coping strategy.  I even used it as recently as about 8 months ago.  Initially I thought that i wasn't going to need it, but I have never been so glad of human invention in my whole life.
  4. SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH THE ELDEST CHILD.  The biggest thing for me was the shift in my relationship with Thomas.  Although we still had a very close mother/son relationship and we still had a tight bond, I felt as though 2 year old Tom really struggled with mummy having a new baby. Equally, I struggled to deal with his consequent reaction and behaviour to it. He went from super-excited to really defiant, combined with prolonged tantrums very quickly.  Looking back on it, the best thing we did together was to get a babysitter for Ethan and go swimming once a week, just me and Tom.  It was quality time well spent and something that really helped Tom to feel more comfortable in his new role as big brother while allowing me to spend some much-needed time with him one-on-one, affirming our relationship while doing something we both loved.
  5. TAKE TIME TO EAT.  This seems like such a basic thing, doesn't it?  It is and it isn't.  Eating comes last in the grand scheme of things for a lot of mothers a lot of the time.  They get tied up in milk feeding, coping with the demands of a fussy toddler, potty-training, washing and just general life...and eating?  Eating doesn't seem so important.  Eating gets de-classified along with showering and wearing clean clothes; namely, you are just intent on keeping your head down and getting on with it.  DON'T.  Eating is fuel for your fire, the thing that settles your mood, the one thing that gives you the energy to carry on.  Especially if you are breastfeeding.  Eating well must be a priority.  Don't skimp on food or you'll soon know all about it.
    For me, an Open University course helped my confidence and stimulated my baby brain
  6. FIND WAYS TO BE YOURSELF.  Why did I take on driving lessons and university courses in the first six months of being a mother of two?  Well, it wasn't because I was bored!  Rather, it was because the hour that I got in the car with my driving instructor gave me a break from the bedtime routine while chatting to another adult for the first time that day, or the studying time I had for my course gave me something to challenge my grey matter, which for me was a huge thing.  I'm not saying you should go out and do something crazy or as time-consuming as this, but seriously consider an exercise class if you feel like you need a bit of active therapy (I did Zumba -there was something about moving hard and fast that did it for me), or even head to the library and pick a book.  Just do something for you.  Two small children is a time-consuming, arduous job.  You need to surface from time to time.
    We got off our butts and headed to toddler group two mornings a week
  7. JOIN A TODDLER GROUP. Trust me, nobody hated toddler groups more then I did.  Initially, I only went because I needed a reason to get out of our house (we were living with my FIL at the time).  But as time went on and I started to get to know everyone, everything got better and I even made a good friend.  Two months after I had Ethan I even went to the annual Xmas party and got really drunk and had a great time, which was totally what I needed.  Just the basic fact that I was meeting up with other women who had kids the same age, Thomas could play pretty much unsupervised and I could sit in a space with a cup of tea for ten minutes made a world of difference.  I think it's important to try more than one group until you find one that fits - not all are the same, some are run by crazy over-organised people, which is fine if that's your thing, but all I wanted was a casual meet-up, not a dishes rota.  We went to another toddler group when we moved house and it was awful.  If I'd gone to that one first it would have put me off for  life.  Thankfully, by then, it wasn't so much of a lifeline.
  8. BE KIND TO YOUR FUTURE SELF.  This is a message not only for having two kids under 2, but one for your whole life.  Being kind to your Future self is something you will constantly high five yourself for if you keep at it.  Past self is awesome, because Past self always keeps an umbrella in the car so that future self doesn't get soaked on a trip to the doctors.  Past self remembers to stick all of the school shirts in the washing on Friday night instead of panicking on Sunday night.  Past self sticks a collection of birthday cards in the cupboard for Future self to dip into when caught short on someone's birthday.  Past self isn't ridiculously organised, she's not always the best and she struggles too, but she's always thinking of Future self.  Future self is very grateful that Past self was so thoughtful.  It's like having a best mate who you never meet.
    Hot Wheels attached to a table?  If it works, do it!
  9. UTILISE ANYTHING THAT WILL GET YOU THROUGH.  Anything.  If your kid wants to watch Finding Nemo for the 3rd time that day, letting you catch up with yourself a bit, that's fine.  If you have a particular penchant for dark chocolate on a sandwich, eat it.  If your baby settles better with a dummy than without, let him have it.  This is not a time for guilt.  Soon you will get more sleep,soon they will be in more of a routine and soon one of them will be able to play independently. Now is not the time to beat yourself up for being a 'bad parent'.  Bad parenting is not this. Those who have not walked a mile in your shoes will not understand.  Those who have will give you a high five on the way past.
    Funny face, make you smile!
  10. HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR.  It really really  helps if you can laugh when you get pooped on by not one, but both kids before you are due to leave the house (tick!).  It helps if you can see the bright side when the wheel falls off your three-wheeled pram (this actually happened to me) meaning some kind soul volunteers to help you home with a baby, a toddler who won't walk and a broken pram.  It very much helps if you can giggle just a wee bit when your toddler decides to post your money and driving licence out of the letterbox just as the postman arrives and also while you are hooked up to the milk pump (again, this actually happened to me.  I just screamed 'post it back!' when the postman shouted through the letterbox at me and hoped to love he couldn't see too much through the fancy glass door.) Keep in mind that if any possible scenario exists  in your head, it the potential to happen.  Sod's law dictates that if you have to be at baby massage for 12p.m, your baby will make 12p.m the new nap time.  Ride with it all.  It's just another moment in time.  Let it go and move on - it'll all make a funny story one day.
Not such a baby now!  Though he'd like to be...
There is no magical time for when life gets easier.  For me, everything fell into place a bit more when Tom started to go to nursery and I started work.  Even then, Ethan didn't start sleeping through the night until he was just over 3 years old.

But I'm looking back on my days with two babies and I think, yes, it was damn hard.  But by gawd, it was worth it.

Growing up far too quickly


  1. Another wonderful post Genna and I don't know how you did it, but you have two gorgeous and happy little boys, so you did a lot right.

    1. I dunno either Jac! I feel like a bit of a fraud writing this - I have no real idea how we are all still alive! Ha ha! Looking back on it - that was nuts!

  2. I love your advice about being kind to yourself and not forgetting to eat! My kids are 5 and 1 1/2 and I still forget to eat sometimes. Great advice! Stopping by from the Mommy Monday blog hop :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by :) I'm still not great at eating when they eat - seems like such a massive effort sometimes to cater to myself, my husband and both of them AND the dog all at once. Quite often, it never happens!


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