Monday, 25 July 2016

Twin pregnancy: Five things I learnt as a twin dad-to-be

After some more fantastic feedback for blog no. 2 – “insightful”, “brilliant”, “I only got halfway through” – it was inevitable that I would be back again.

I can already see the pattern forming, as once again this post has been a little delayed from another hectic couple of weeks. This might change though as, being a teacher, Ana is now off for SIX WEEKS!

One of the most common responses I received when I first mentioned the plan of becoming a stay-at-home dad to people was, “Oh, think of all of that holiday”. So in many ways, I guess this time together as a foursome is essentially what we’ve been working towards.

Hopefully it will all work out a lot better than previous half-terms and end-of-terms as they’ve mainly been disrupted by – yes, here comes that word again – illness. We can only assume it is something which comes from our lives being non-stop and, as we live away from family, fending for ourselves a lot.

Ultimately, I think we just get worn out, so fingers crossed we don’t face any/much of that in the coming weeks. Although with Ana being off work last week with sickness, we might have at least got some of it out of the way early.

Getting to this point does feel a little like the end of a chapter to a certain extent, with it of course meaning I’m no longer going to be on my own with Oscar and Isabel during the week. The past eight months or so have honestly flown by and as I’ve said before I have loved it. I suppose I can also say now that I (and they) survived it too, which is an achievement in itself.

I might have learnt a few things on the way, so hopefully a few bits of that wisdom might accidentally fall into a post one of these days.

Another milestone which is definitely worth a mention is that the twins are now 18 months old. And it’s mental because they’re little people – toddling around, having a chatter, telling you when they want food, pointing to where the food is in the changing bag, screaming when they don’t get food out of the changing bag. And much much more.

It’s crazy and it seems a long time since the nine months of Ana’s pregnancy (seamless link here), which is of course where we left our story in the last post.

Trying to keep concise, I thought I’d try to boil down my experience of Ana’s pregnancy into some easily digestible morsels. Please note the reference to my experience, as of course I can’t speak for my other half in any of this and can only talk about my views on it.

So, looking back, these are the few key issues which have stuck in my head from when Ana was growing our babies. Well, apart from the twins first kicking during the Robot of Sherwood episode of Doctor Who and taking them to listen to Jack White at the First Direct Arena with about two months to go.

Oscar and Isabel enjoying Jack White at the First Direct Arena in November 2014.

1.       Breakfast in bed

For many, breakfast in bed is considered a romantic luxury. What could be better than having a loved one bring food to your boudoir on a sunny morning, throwing caution to the wind and not giving a damn about where those toast crumbs might end up? Well, pregnancy put a new twist on this old favourite.

In the early months, Ana woke up looking pale and feeling queasy, although I don’t believe she was ever actually sick. As a result, she required some assistance in partaking the first meal of the day and one of my first jobs was to get her a glass of water and some ginger biscuits to settle the stomach. Delicious.

Only after consuming these slowly, and having a word with herself, would she then emerge from the sheets bleary-eyed, delicate and not in any way ready to face the day.

While I can’t remember exactly, I’m sure I would have offered support through all of this – probably downstairs munching some Coco Pops with a coffee and BBC Breakfast on, awaiting any further instructions or requests from upstairs.

2.       Regular scans

This one, for me, was definitely one of the perks of having twins. Due to the greater risks involved in getting two for the price of one, mums expecting multiples get more regular scans than in a single pregnancy.

So, we had the joy of seeing our babies every month, which meant we were able to closely follow their development but also get important reassurance that all was well. We also now have a little photo album which charts all of this too.

I felt very lucky to be able to jump out of work to head to all of the scans (thanks Mark, if you’re reading this - although the time was made up of course!) and did benefit from the Leeds General Infirmary being ten minutes from the office.

3.       Dad-ucation

While Ana being pregnant was such an exciting time, it did raise many questions. What support should I offer during the birth? Will there be Wi-Fi in the hospital? Do I truly know what I’m letting myself in for?

The only option to tackle these concerns was of course to get educated on pregnancy, birth and beyond.

To kick this off, we went to a Parentcraft session held at Leeds General Infirmary on an evening after work. If I’m being brutally honest, it was a little arduous being talked at for a couple of hours (they may have changed since our time of course!). However, it was full of important nuggets and did get the ball rolling on us talking as a couple about how Ana would like to approach the big day of giving birth.

Following that, we went to a session held by TAMBA – the Twins & Multiple Births Association – to talk more about similar issues. It was essentially an antenatal class, but more aimed at providing guidance to parents expecting twins or more. Again, this really did help in terms of us thinking about birth plans and preparing for life with children. There’s no preparation like changing a nappy smeared with mustard.

So yeah, these helped to get us in the zone, although I never did find out about the Wi-Fi.

4.       Mummy-To-Be Prep

While this is of course about my experience, it is worth remembering Ana still had an important part to play in this whole thing. As such, there were a couple of ways she looked to prepare herself for the birth.

She found reflexology with our friend Rebecca Hill to be quite the treat and an opportunity for relaxation during the pregnancy, and through that she was then pointed in the direction of The Calm Birth School and their focus on hypnobirthing.

Now, I’ll stress at this point that I was purely in supportive husband mode and just simply happy to go along with however Ana wished to approach her pregnancy. After all, she was the one doing the heavy lifting. As such, I can’t and wouldn’t claim to be an expert in any of this stuff and I would recommend speaking to Ana (she likes to talk) or seeking more information elsewhere if this is of any interest.

What I do know though is that Ana found The Calm Birth School’s course to be very useful in terms of her preparation for the birth and her perspective on what she was about to go through. In particular, it helped her to develop a more positive mindset about the births and how her body was designed to do the job at hand.

Different approaches work for different people and I know she took a lot from these.

5.       Pillows

It began with one pillow, then another, then another, then another….until I could scarcely believe that we’d always had so many pillows in the house. Where did they come from?

A fundamental part of my pregnancy experience was kissing my wife goodnight before she laid down and allowed herself to be absorbed into the pillow fortress she constructed on our bed – all in the name of keeping her and the bump comfy during sleepy time. I didn’t see her for hours at a time.

There were pillows to support her bump, her back, her legs, everything. Pillow, pillow and pillow.

And just when you thought everything had settled, she’d decide she needed to turn over or go to the loo. While she admittedly had the legs and arms sticking in her ribs, I often had to bear witness to her efforts to manoeuvre.

Believe me, the sleepless nights started well before the babies.

So that’s what I would say sums up my pregnancy experience in five points. Just to give quick mention – if you’re still with me and haven’t nodded off – I am now part of the world of Instagram. Please seek me out via the link on the sidebar or search for @twindaddixon to get my latest top quality images. 

Highlights so far include a tower made of wooden bricks, some wildflowers and a cup of coffee. Arty.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Ready or not?

I’m back! Finally. It’s been a busy week and a half, so it’s taken longer than expected to sit down and write this. I actually started putting this together a couple of nights ago, only for my efforts to be interrupted by a bout of vomiting each from Oscar and Isabel. Thankfully they seem OK now (touch wood) but the washing machine may never recover from a tough 24 hours.

I wanted to start with a quick word of thanks to everyone who has been in touch either in person or online with reaction to the first article – I’m really chuffed that so many of you have actually taken time to have a read and I genuinely appreciate it. Even the typo-spotting.

Of course, the fact it was so well-received has led to calls of ‘when are you doing the next one?’. As a friend pointed out the other day, it took about nine months to sort the first so I guess I’m working fairly flexibly when it comes to timescales.

As promised, this post is about the start of this journey into twindom and the only place to really begin is when Ana and I were first considering the notion of having children.

I don’t think it would come as much surprise to say that babies were on Ana’s mind before mine, although she didn’t ever put any pressure on me (she asked me to add this, she edits these with an iron fist). We’d always known that we would want them someday, but serious thought on the issue only really kicked in after we got married in April 2012.

Looking back, the one particular conversation which sticks out was during a holiday in Rome a year after the wedding and if I remember rightly it may have actually been on the day we visited the Coliseum with the mother of all hangovers. It was one of those rather serious discussions I tend to avoid at all costs – primarily because I struggle to take anything seriously – but the general gist was whether I felt ready to start making babies.

Now, I’ve always found this a strange issue and have had discussions with friends on this idea of being ready. After thinking about it far too much, I suppose that even with as much preparation as possible you can never truly be ready for the shift that occurs in your life when you first bring children into the world. It’s amazing, but in those first weeks and months it hits you like an enormous, insane whirlwind.

The conclusion in Rome though was that I was reaching some stage of readiness. To try and explain, I’d been very fortunate through university and across my 20s to enjoy lots of nights out with friends from far and wide, plenty of devastating hangovers, brilliant gigs, enough FIFA to make your eyes bleed, so much film and TV…the freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

However, with 30 on the horizon I felt comfortable that it was the right time to move on, think about the future and, ultimately, grow up. I was ready to accept the challenge of having children and also the inevitable compromises which would come with it – particularly that the opportunities to enjoy all of the aforementioned things I love would become less and less.

So, in Rome it was decided that we would spend the rest of the year indulging in all of the things we loved and aim to start trying for a baby in 2014. By May that year we found out that Ana was pregnant. To be more precise we found out on Ana’s 30th birthday in a hotel in Manchester.

We’d been out for a meal and drinks the night before, so I woke up on her actual birthday a little woozy and stumbled off to the bathroom. What I didn’t expect to see was a Boots carrier bag and a couple of pregnancy test boxes on the floor. Rather than excite me, it actually got me a little worried – I didn’t want her to be disappointed if things didn’t go as hoped and for it to ultimately impact on the rest of her birthday.

So, I went back into the room and raised the unavoidable question about the tests – she’d already done them and passed them to me. The results were more than conclusive, but rather than jump for joy I slid straight into cautious mode…and demanded to see the instructions leaflet to double check it was right. Not my finest moment, it’s fair to say.

In my defence, it was incredibly early days as far as we could tell so I was erring on the side of keeping calm. After all, I thought, anything could happen in those incredibly important first few weeks so it was best just to get through those first. Nevertheless, it was exciting but I do remember the rest of that day feeling so surreal – in rainy Manchester (of course) having afternoon tea in the Hilton, trying to comprehend what we’d just discovered.

A few weeks down the line, we were walking around a retail park and Ana mentioned feeling a little bloated. I flippantly responded: “Well you never know, it could be twins!” We both laughed, thought nothing more of it and got on with our day.

Despite it being called a 12-week scan, the NHS decided to book Ana’s scan on what we understood to be Week 13. As a result, and with the sheer anticipation becoming unbearable, we agreed that having a private scan on Week 12 was a good idea.

I can’t think of any other day in our relationship when I’ve seen Ana so nervous – the scan was on an evening and she could barely eat with worry about whether everything was going to be OK. Being a supportive husband, I told her to buck her ideas up and stop whinging (I’M KIDDING).

The scan room in the private clinic was brilliant – only slightly lit, with a wall-mounted flatscreen TV displaying the ultrasound and facing a long, comfy sofa (for those who like to turn their private moments into a spectator sport).

At this point, the nerves were at peak levels but off we went. Only moments into the scan we realised in unison that there wasn’t just one in there and in a second the operator paused and exclaimed: “There’s two!” The laughing from a few weeks ago returned. And then it turned to disbelief. Bloody hell. There’s two.

We didn’t know what to do with ourselves afterwards, out of sheer shock. Ana was keen to go to Mothercare to mark the occasion by buying something for the twins, a move I probably would have rejected if I’d known how much of my life would be spent in there in the coming months. However, I went along with it and we bought two pairs of booties. Two pairs. Jesus. 

That was the point when I started to choke up, and with Ana already in tears I had my first experience of the hormones of a pregnant woman. Ready or not, bigger changes than we ever imagined were on the way.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Making a start

Kicking off this blog has been something I’ve thought about for the best part of the year, but now it’s here by popular demand (I think two people suggested it).

I don’t know if it will be any good or entertaining but I do feel like, as a stay-at-home dad to twins now for around eight months, I might have a story to tell. Indeed, when your children enter the world via emergency caesarean section to the strains of Leave Right Now by Will Young, it feels like you might have something to share (more on that at a later date).

Starting at the beginning is, I’m reliably informed by showtunes, a very good place to start. To introduce myself – in the vain belief anyone who may not actually know me could read this – I’m Rob and I live in Leeds with my wife Ana and 17-month-old twins Oscar and Isabel.

I also look after Oscar and Isabel full-time, as my wife Ana and I agreed at the end of her maternity leave in November that she would return to her job as a primary school teacher and I would leave my PR job at a law firm to take over the reins.

Isabel (L) and Oscar (R) with their motors running, ready to head out on the highway

To make things clear from the outset, I am an infuriatingly cautious, overthinking type, so to decide that I could keep two children fed, clothed and content for about nine hours every weekday was always a hell of a step. And to be fair, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have moments when I seriously questioned what on earth I thought I was doing. I still do.

But bizarrely, I felt not only up to the challenge but also confident that this was the right thing to do. What an opportunity to spend time with our twins (twins - Ana and I still can’t believe we got two in one go) and watch them as they grow and develop. Dads play a part in their children’s lives in so many ways and I certainly would never say any approach is better than another, but for me this was a chance to be there for them directly everyday. So much has changed in just this short space of time and I’ve been able to watch it all unfold.

It’s not always been plain sailing of course – my well-worn phrase to anyone who asks is that we have ‘good weeks and bad weeks’.

A good week rolls by easily with little fuss. We’ll make playgroups and coffee mornings, as well as maybe have the car and head to the park on other days. Naps will be long and relaxing for all three of us and time spent playing is full of smiles and happiness. Bedtime will be straightforward too and sleep easy to come by. Simple. All is well in the world.

A bad week can be the exact opposite. They will be ill – probably not at the same time, just to make it worse and stretch it out longer – and eventually pass it on to me. You probably wouldn’t think that would be an issue and for Ana and her developed primary teacher immune system it isn’t. For me, it meant days quarantined in bed and a close and intimate relationship with our ensuite bathroom. I had a two or three month run earlier this year when I was pretty much constantly ill – beyond a joke.

Other common issues in a bad week will be them not sleeping well and being unsettled, teething, bad weather keeping us confined to the house and a failure to get out to groups or see neighbours. The latter is so important for my sanity and just to ensure the kids are out and interacting with others their age.

Another factor I perhaps didn’t think too much about before taking over was how life isn’t just looking after Oscar and Isabel. With Ana also bringing home marking, planning or other work most days, her busy evenings mean I have had to pick up a lot of other stuff in the house – particularly cooking most days and trying to keep a handle on clothes washing.

I’ve also had the pleasure of discovering how one of the best parts of home ownership is that something is always broken and needs fixing – stairgates coming away from walls, storage units needing to be fixed to the wall, blind cords coming off their pulley, water leaks in the house. I’ve easily done more DIY in the past few months than I’d managed in the past 31 years.

So it is busy. Very very busy. I’m only writing this now as it is the weekend so Ana’s home and the babies are napping. In fact, if this was a weekday, I’d probably be trying to snooze on the sofa right now in an attempt to reclaim some of the sleep I’ve still not caught up on from the past, well, 18 months.

I always knew it was busy and did ignore some of the sarcastic comments which have come my way in the past. Yes, I do occasionally get to play FIFA. Yes, I’ve managed to watch my fair share of Euro 2016. But claiming that time amid all of the jobs and the need to actually speak to my wife before 10pm - when I really start thinking I should be in bed in anticipation of a possible 2am wake-up call - is the hard part.

Working with people who have kids in the past, I always found it a little amusing how they might not have seen certain TV shows, films, heard music or whatever. I always thought I wouldn’t lose a grip on stuff like that, but there’s simply not enough time in the day to keep up anymore.

And yet….unbelievably, despite losing my grip on those things and enduring those bad weeks, it’s fine. I’m actually very happy.

Because, ultimately, I’ve had the chance to watch two little people turn from babies into toddlers and it’s been brilliant, entertaining and often very funny. I’d be hard-pressed to think of any other responsibility which could be such a joy.

My aim with this is to share some of my stories from the past few months – to relay some of my experiences to the outside world in the hope it could be a reasonable read. If anyone finds even a hint of advice or wisdom in there, that would also be good (if not an enormous surprise).

I think the next one will probably look at the start of this entire twin journey, so hopefully you’ll be back to have a look at that one too. BYE!