Taking Two Under Two Out

Getting ready to leave the house is a day’s work in itself.

When Alexandra was tiny, leaving the house seemed like a massive feat, like a trauma that would surely involve tears (from both of us) and probably a poonami or two (hopefully just from her). Over time I gradually learned to become more confident about taking a tiny human being everywhere with me.

As most the time I’m going to fairly busy civilised places rather than travelling to the jungle or desert, I’ve learned you can pretty much always buy whatever you’ve forgotten or the baby’s ruined. Yes sometimes that’s meant buying an emergency pair of leggings from the supermarket or borrowing a nappy from a friend but clearly neither of those options are the end of the world.

What do you do if the baby cries? Well the simple answer is to have enough food on you to rule that out as the cause any time they cry and then to carry on like you would at home. Work your way through the list of possibilities until you stumble upon the correct one.

I quickly realised that everyone has run home in the rain having forgotten the pram cover, everyone has left a bottle top open and leaked liquid all over the change back, everyone has coped with a baby meltdown so bad they’ve just had to give the sorry eyes to anyone passing.

And then the game changed. I fell pregnant with number two. I then spent a lot of time worrying about how you could possibly take two out when there’s only one of you.

But just as I did with my first, you learn to adapt and you pick up tips along the way. Things like always ensuring you’ve got a snack for the toddler to have during baby’s feeds, even if they wouldn’t normally eat at that time, because they will get bored being strapped into the pushchair not moving for that length of time. Things like taking a blanket for the toddler so they don’t steal the baby’s because they will even if they don’t normally have one anymore. Things like what order to put them in and out of the car to avoid any issues.

Clearly I’m not perfect, I don’t have this parenting thing sorted just yet (does anyone?), mostly I’m just winging two under two. But my point is there is absolutely no need to worry. Parenting is suffocating at first but if you try to remain as calm as possible and not let the fear take over, you CAN get out of the house on your own. There is no need to be trapped. One day everything will click and you’ll look back and wonder why you worried. You got this!

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Dear Daddy…

Dear daddy,

Thanks for the hours you spend chasing me round because I think it’s hysterical. Thanks for the times you carry me when I’ve got too tired to walk. Thanks for the bedtime routine we add new things to almost every week. Thanks for the cuddles, kisses and high fives. Thanks for taking me to new places all the time like farms and parks where I can explore. Thanks for always making sure I have sauce on my dinner – yum! Thanks for letting me help with the gardening. Thanks for swinging me as high as you can at the park. Thanks for being the best daddy a little girl could ask for.

Love from Alexandra x

Dear daddy,

Thanks for the best snuggles on your chest when I’m struggling to sleep. Thanks for waking up in the night to feed me. Thanks for carrying me round in my sling so I’m really comfy. Thanks for being there for me right from day one when I was poorly. Thanks for singing to me and smiling at me all the time. Thanks for being the best daddy a boy could ask for.

Love from Max x

Mother Of Two

The cutest little monkeys.

Being a mother of two is…
– Spending weeks thinking about what you’ll do when they both nap at the same time and then wasting it looking at instagram when it finally happens.
– Sometimes counting the ‘high point’ of your day as the time when the babies poo at the same time so you can use one nappy bag for both. Economic!
– Nodding and smiling nicely about 58 times a day when people tell you you’ve got your hands full.
– Trying to ram the double buggy through doors that aren’t wide enough, down aisles that it clearly doesn’t fit down and around people who have no concept of where it’s appropriate to stand and have a chat.
– Attempting to make important phone calls while feeding the baby, helping the toddler create a crayon masterpiece, eat your breakfast (at 2pm) and change somebody’s nappy.
– Wondering if you could squeeze into a nappy yourself so you save time having to go to the toilet.
– Being more tired than you ever knew possible but also more happy (had to throw a nice one in there cause I do really like my children!).
– Wondering if it looks twee or cute if you’ve accidentally matched the kids’ clothes but going with it anyway because changing one would be more hassle.
– Deciding if going to the loo, eating or sitting down for two minutes are the priorities. Deciding you can actually combine all three!
– Trying to stop the big one squashing the small one.
– Being tempted to write a Facebook bragging status when you get to the bottom of the laundry basket.
– Wondering how baby always has a bigger pile of clean clothing in each load than anyone else despite being much smaller than everyone.
– Deciding you’ll have bulging biceps in no time when you’re carrying round baby in his car seat and toddler at the same time.
– Trying to get both of them to look at the camera simultaneously just once.
– Feeling really responsible when you realise you’re in charge of two human beings.
– Giving yourself a mental high five when you get to the end of every day and they’re both still alive, fed and changed, even if they (and you and the house) are covered in sick, bogeys and food.

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Post Birth Recovery

Looking a bit less dead than I did last time.

I’d just like to warn anyone reading that I’m going to talk about lady bits during this post. So maybe look away now if you’ve either never had a baby and don’t want to know about the grizzly details or if you don’t own lady bits and want their postnatal state to remain a mystery forever.

I realised today I’ve talked a lot about my children’s progress on this blog, which is a given really, but not really mentioned my own recovery from the birth this time.

If you put aside all of the other complications that happened postnatally with Alexandra – there was still the small matter of an episiotomy and 27 stitches to recover from. Even if you’ve pushed an entire human out of your body with no lasting damage to your hooha, it’s still going to be a little sore right? So add into that the fact someone’s done a cross stitch in your lady bits and it’s a long slow recovery. I’ve heard of people taking up to a year to recover from an episiotomy.

Thankfully mine didn’t take anywhere near that long but I do remember around day five getting the midwives to check my stitches as I was in so much pain I was convinced there must be some sort of infection going on down there. There wasn’t but it was still pretty unbearable!

This time round I escaped with a small tear that didn’t need stitching. I cannot tell you how much easier that was to cope with! None of that wincing as you sit down (handy when you’re spending all your waking hours in a chair next to your baby’s incubator) and weeing was much more comfortable – although that first post-baby poo is always going to be a terrifying prospect! But the thought is MUCH worse than the reality.

Aside from the hooha situation, I lost weight much more quickly the first time round (obviously being so ill!) so I’m still well over the weight I was when I got pregnant with Max (although I was this fat when I got pregnant with Alexandra!); I’m expressing this time so clearly that’s affected what’s happening up top as my milk had dried up by this point first time round; emotionally I didn’t have the third day baby blues either time but I think that’s because I haven’t had a ‘normal’ postnatal experience – there’s definitely been hormones flying around but isn’t that always the case even when you’ve not just given birth!

I was shocked how well I felt this time having had an unassisted delivery. By the next day I was walking around normal and aside from the lochia, leaky boobs and empty sack of a stomach I hardly knew I’d had a baby! People were commenting how well I looked and it was super refreshing especially having prepped myself to feel pretty shoddy.

It’s nice to know you can go through something as major as birthing a child and feel so good afterwards! It’s kind of empowering really! Which I feel a bit cringe saying but having felt like doctors delivered my first child and everyone else looked after her for months while I was a bit…well…useless, to bounce out of bed the next day and put some proper clothes on having pushed a baby out all by yourself feels pretty amazing actually.

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Express Yourself

From a few weeks ago, but the expression on Max’s face is great!

So the time has come to talk about feeding! We all know the great breastfeeding/formula feeding is one of the big debates designed to make moms feel judged whatever side of the fence they fall on! You may also know if you’ve read previous posts of mine that I breastfed my daughter for just under a week before switching to formula, partly because she just wasn’t getting the hang of it and there was a worry she’d become jaundiced again and wasn’t putting enough weight on, and partly because I was very poorly.

This time round I’d decided I wanted to try and feed my son if I could. Then within hours of his birth he’d been transferred to NICU and was being attached to various wires and tubes so I was advised to start hand expressing and then on day 2 to start using the electric pump to build up my supply.

As it was, Max was partly tube fed for the first two weeks of his life while being nil by mouth on the other days. When it came to establishing feeding on day 15, I was told to essentially pop him on the boob and ‘see what happens’ although I was warned he was small so may not take to it. I tried on that day a few times but felt massively unsupported. I was sat in a room with a curtain around our section of it, trying to get this tiny poorly baby to attach himself to me. He was so tired he kept nodding off with the effort of it.

And I cried. I cried at every feed because it was bringing back all of the memories of trying unsuccessfully to feed Alexandra. I cried because I knew the only way we would get out of the hospital is if Max started gaining weight and he had to be having a substantial amount of milk to do so. I cried because I really didn’t know what I was doing – and neither did he bless him.

So when they gave me the option of feeding him from a bottle (still
my expressed milk), I took it. And he drank the entire thing straight away despite them saying he may struggle to do so because of his size. And from then on, I carried on expressing and giving him the milk from a bottle. I didn’t even try putting him on the boob.

When we were discharged a few days later, I knew his fast progress was because he’d taken to bottles so quickly and I wondered how much longer it would have taken for us to establish breastfeeding. Occasionally I thought I should have stuck at it longer but I figured he was still getting exactly the same milk, just from a different receptacle!

When we got home they said I could try breastfeeding there if I wanted to. Perhaps I would have done if he was my first but I couldn’t see a way to sit all day trying to establish breastfeeding when there was also a toddler to look after and SO many hospital appointments to attend. Probably once feeding was established, it would take less time than expressing but I couldn’t see a way we could get to that point?

Max is now on a mixture of my milk and a special Neocate formula since he was diagnosed with dairy allergy FPIES. I’ve donated the four litres of milk I’d got frozen from before I went dairy free. Max has 120ml every three hours which is a lot more than most babies his size, but he’s trying to catch up because he’s still the size of a newborn not a two month baby! So if I was able to express eight times a day I would probably be able to build my supply a little and solely give him EBM but it’s normally more like six times a day that I express and sometimes it has to be a quick five minutes rather than a full go, so that’s why we’re topping up with formula.

I don’t know how long I’ll carry on expressing. I felt like it was important for him to have my breast milk, more so because of him being prem and poorly. It would be SO much easier to transfer to just formula (have you ever tried looking after a baby and toddler on your own while expressing?!) but I don’t want to do that just yet.

I’ve only had one bit of outright negativity (I may talk about that separately) and the advantage is that other people are able to feed. So for example sometimes Dylan will be feeding Max overnight and I can go off and express – or even try and get some sleep.

Downsides are I do feel incredibly like a cow ‘milking’ myself all day and night!

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

The NICU Experience

Max all ready to come home the following day from the hospital, six days post surgery.

Having done the whole intensive care, near death experience, multiple organ failure drama the first time round, we thought we were absolutely down with the fact that sometimes birth and the bit after don’t go to plan. We thought we’d become the poster children for ‘expect the unexpected’ and been there, lived it and came home with not only the t-shirt but the scars and dodgy hand and heart too.

But nothing, nothing can prepare you for the sight of your child being on an intensive care ward.

Luckily when I was poorly I didn’t have to look at myself. There are pictures of me from intensive care but they were very much during the ‘recovery’ phase and not the ‘might not make it’ phase of my time in hospital. So I’ll never know how bad or otherwise I looked (a doctor told me I looked like a corpse and most of the nurses completely didn’t recognise me when I returned four months later for a visit which gives me some sort of clue). Anyway I digress.

On his worst days in NICU, Max was ventilated which meant there was a tube down his throat, tape on his face keeping it in place and then a contraption with two thick tubes attached to a machine making all sorts of beeping noises. He had an NG tube which ran down his nose, a long line into his arm, various cannulas in his arms and legs, a blood pressure cuff, an oxygen sats monitor, ECG monitors on his chest, an arterial line attached to his umbilical cord and a mask on protecting his eyes from the light treatment he was receiving for jaundice.

Somewhere under all of that was our son. Our son who we’d barely got to see properly before he became entangled in a mass of wires and medical equipment. Our son weighing in at less than 5lbs. Our son who’d beaten the odds to even be born alive.

Somewhere under all that were our hopes and dreams that we could take this precious bundle home with us and get to know every crease in his hands and feet and every hair on his head. Somewhere under all that was our belief that things would work out okay.

When your child’s poorly, you don’t imagine the future very often (except sometimes when everyone gets excited and starts using the word ‘home’ only for something to go wrong and bring you crashing back down). You imagine that day, you focus on that hour and you just pray for stability. You pray you won’t be called at 2am or have the doctors come up to you with that worried look on their faces. You hold their tiny hands and wish for them to be stable enough to cuddle. You hope for stable because stable is the best you’ll get that day.

You find yourself laughing and joking with the nurses because there is literally nothing else to do and no one else to talk to. You enjoy every nappy change because it’s a chance to actually do something for your child who’s being essentially looked after by strangers. You sometimes realise you’ve sat in the same place for four hours without moving.

I had a couple of moments where I thought ‘why us? Why Max?’ But you can’t do that constantly. You would break. So instead you celebrate every tiny milestone and you smile and you talk constantly to your little tiny baby. Instead you stay positive in every update you send to family and friends.

The most heartbreaking moment for us on NICU was when the baby who’d been in the cot space next to Max in the room he’d spent a few days in passed away. I will never forget that day and the thought of being those parents. Of driving home in silence in a car with no noise coming from the back seat. Of going home to see all of the things you bought for a baby who will never ever see or use or wear them. Of the emptiness and the despair.

I can’t even imagine and I feel physically sick thinking about what those parents went though. That day made me realise even more that no matter what we went through with Max, as long as we took him home eventually we could get through it. Yes he’s been poorly but as I type these words he’s lay asleep on my lap looking to all intents and purposes like a healthy baby.

We are the lucky ones. Our son has the chance to grow and develop every day and whatever challenges he faces along the way, we know he can do it because he’s proved himself time and time again, fighting back so quickly where other little ones have taken much longer to get over the ordeals he’s faced.

I will never forget our time on NICU, PICU, the neonatal surgical ward and the children’s ward across three hospitals over Max’s first few weeks of life. I will never forget those parents who didn’t get to take their little boy home. I will always encourage my son (and his sister) to live life to the full, because we’ve been there and seen first hand that sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Max has already made our hearts burst with pride at how strong and incredible he is. I will always look at him and think of all his fellow prem and/or poorly babies, what amazing little things they are.

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

21 Months and 2 Months Old

I thought I’d combine a monthly update for both children, mostly as Max turned two months on the 26th and Alexandra turned 21 months on the 29th so we’d have two similar posts on the trot otherwise. Also because once she turns two I’ll probably do less frequent updates about Alex so it seemed to make sense to do it this way.

Alexandra:

This little one’s personality seems to be growing every day, she’s full of sass and is much too smart for her own good. We’re definitely experiencing the full force of tantrums now but on the flip side she’s also very loving and caring. She’s delightful with her brother and loves giving kisses to everyone, whether it’s us or her teddies.

Her vocabulary is expanding daily with new words including star, heart and circle (there’s been a new focus on shapes in our house!), blue, spoon and efforts to say Max, car (sounds like dar) and moo (she says boo instead!). We’ve been doing a lot of counting but that mainly involves shouting the number two which is her favourite number by far.

Alex is excellent at pointing out different objects, animals and people in her books and particularly enjoys playing with her farmyard animal matching game (they played something similar at nursery and the staff were very impressed with what a whizz she was at it).

She’s getting much better at feeding herself and eats 95 per cent of her meals without assistance. Fruit is still one of her favourite things, although strawberries have overtaken bananas this month as her ultimate fave. Alexandra had her first proper fringe trim at the hairdressers this month, has spent loads of time in the garden and at the park, has lots of new books thanks to both nans and is still obsessed with stars, flowers, playing boo and saying hello into the phone (or any object she wants to pretend is a phone).

Max:

Little Maxi is now two months old although people still think he’s just a few days old when they see him for the first time. He was 7lb 8.5 on the 23rd and is still wearing newborn clothes. He began smiling at seven weeks old which we were really impressed by as we were told it could be six weeks after his due date (which would be when he’s 11 weeks).

He still loves his cuddles and is happy for ages lay on anyone’s chest. He’s also a very hungry boy and has around 120ml every three hours, a mix of expressed milk and Neocate. He now spends time in his bouncer and his baby gym and enjoys having new things to look at.

He adores his sister and spends a lot of time looking at her and listening to her. Max’s eyes are starting to go a lighter blue and his hair is still a mid brown and hasn’t started falling out yet. He’s still got the strong grip so many nurses and doctors commented on when he was first born and he’s much more active now, getting to grips with moving his arms and legs.

All in all, both of them are doing amazingly and we are super proud parents!

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

A New Sibling

Alexandra talks Max through how to use his new baby gym.

Bringing a new sibling into the equation is always going to be tough. Whether you’re nine months or 19 years old, you’re going to be affected in some way if there’s suddenly a new tiny thing living in your house that demands attention 24/7 and gets loads of cuddles from not only your mom and dad but from all your visitors too.

But there are ways to minimise the green-eyed monster (although you’re always going to get one or two jealous moments!).

Alexandra was 18 months when her brother was born so her understanding of what was happening was fairly limited, although she obviously knew something was happening.

Before baby’s born:

– Keep them involved is my main advice. Alexandra came to some of my scans to see her brother on screen before his grand entrance. We showed her things we’d bought for baby, talked to her a lot about her brother and she spent a lot of time patting my tummy and talking to him through my belly button.
– Spend time with them. Sounds silly but it’s easy to get caught up in the pregnancy whirlwind and also to want to rest up as much as possible, especially in the third trimester. However I tried to use my pregnancy as a time for Alexandra and I to cement our bond and spend plenty of time playing, knowing my attention and time would be divided very soon.

Once baby arrives:

– Keep the status quo. Don’t switch up the older sibling’s routine to fit in with the baby, do the opposite if you can. For example we’ve incorporated Max into Alexandra’s existing bath and bedtime routine. We still eat meals at the same time, even if it means one of us has to cuddle or feed Max during dinner. We’ve been going out as much as we can and Alex has still been attending nursery even though I’m on maternity leave. So yes things are different now she’s got a brother, but we’ve tried not to turn her whole world upside down.
– Get them involved. Their age will dictate how involved they can be, but simple things like asking them to fetch a nappy and wipes for changing time, or helping them hold the bottle during feeding time, can help them feel like they’re doing a great job supporting you and bringing up their little sibling. Alex is chuffed whenever she gets praised for helping Max.
– Get visitors on board. Luckily our friends and family have been amazing about ensuring they give Alex plenty of fuss (does that phrase make her sound like a puppy?) when they come to our house, and many of them have brought a little something with them for her if they’ve been bringing a gift for Max which is incredibly sweet. Having people pay her plenty of attention means Alexandra doesn’t really get jealous when we have visitors.

I’m not painting the whole two under two, new baby, new sibling scenario out to be amazing and all rainbows and butterflies – but it is working out much better than I envisaged when we found out we were having a second baby. It helps that Alex is incredibly independent and has a good comprehension of lots of things we talk to her about – and that Max is a fairly chilled baby. But it also helps that we work as a team and ensure both of us spend time with both children. We’re getting the odd moment of jealousy but it’s so worth it to see the sweet moments where she holds his hand and kisses him, or the way she now hi fives him before bed as well as her dad and I.

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Two Under Two Survival Tips

We’ve now been the owners of two children under the age of two for eight weeks. So far, so good in that all four of us have survived the experience and the children have at least been fed regularly. I’d like to offer up some advice based on the small amount of two under two experience I have under my belt for anyone utterly mad enough to sign up for the crazy experience that is the newborn/toddler combo experience:

– Consider becoming a Pampers shareholder or finding out if Aldi offer staff discount and joining their workforce. The amount of nappies we’ve got through is hideous.
– Save your voice by recording the following phrases and playing them on repeat to your toddler through the day: gentle, careful, no that’s the baby’s, give that back to the baby, please don’t tread on/kick/sit on the baby.
– Accept that everybody leaving the house in some form of clothing is a bonus. If the baby’s in their pyjamas, the toddler has banana in their hair and you have sick down your leggings then it’s fine. You made it out the house and that’s some sort of minor miracle considering the likelihood of someone needing to eat, drink, have their nappy changed, nap, have a tantrum or any combination of the above at any one point in time.
– Just don’t even bother attempting to nap. You probably discovered about a week in to life with baby 1 that sleeping when the baby sleeps is some sort of bullshit advice given to you when you’re pregnant to lull you into a false sense of security about how easy this is going to be. If the planets ever align and you find both of your children are napping at the same time then do not under any circumstances bother closing your eyes (not even a long blink) or, heaven forbid, lying down. They will know. They will both wake up within seven milliseconds even if they’ve only just gone to sleep. They will both begin crying like they’ve never cried before and you will have to choose which one of them to console first while praying the other doesn’t explode they’re crying so hard.
– As above, don’t bother starting to cook some food you intend to eat hot, getting the iron out or dialling someone’s number for a chat. The best you can hope for is you manage to speed eat a packet of crisps and half write a text that you’ve been meaning to send for the last week and will forget all about for at least another month before finally sending.
– Don’t be afraid to let other people do things. With baby 1 you might have been mildly possessive and insisted on doing EVERYTHING. Now you have two, if someone wants to assist in any way then thou shalt bite their hand off and be forever grateful. Whether this comes in the form of occupying toddler while you feed baby, making you a cup of tea or just having a cuddle with baby so you spend some time playing with your firstborn. If you can find someone willing to do nappies (thanks mom!) then consider holding them hostage in your house.
– Pick a child each and sort that one out. Regularly swap which child you each entertain, otherwise one of you will be on a constant feed, wind, nappy change cycle while the other is forced to talk on repeat about dogs, ducks and stars (current favourite in our house – I never noticed how many stars there are on everything until it was pointed out to me every day).
– Let Mr Tumble babysit. There’s no shame in plonking the toddler in front of the TV, having a cuddle with the baby and just not doing much for a while.

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x

Bonding – A Rush Of Love?

Before I had children, I subscribed to the theory that you would experience this magical, other-worldly moment when your baby was placed on your chest and suddenly the stars aligned, you became a mother and you loved this being more than anything else you’d ever seen or known. It’s a popular theory touted around by the media and, I hate to say it, often by other mothers too.

For some people I don’t doubt that’s what bonding with their firstborn (and all their subsequent children) was like. For some I suspect it all falls into place.

For me, I loved Alexandra from the moment we knew she existed. Despite hating being pregnant, I already felt protective over this little being growing inside of me. When she arrived, again I felt protective over her. I felt like she was my child and I needed to do right by her.

But I didn’t feel like a mother.

I felt like an amateur when I watched the midwives swaddle her and rock her to sleep. I felt like I should have L-plates on when other mothers offered advice or support. And ultimately I felt like a failure as I returned home after nearly three months to begin the process of becoming a mom, when my husband and others had stepped in and filled in that role for me as I lay in a hospital bed for the first weeks of Alexandra’s life.

As well as repairing myself, I had to repair my confidence. I felt scared to take her out, I felt scared to be on my own with her, I felt like I had no idea how to be her mother. She was (and still is) beautiful, precious and amazing. But I still didn’t feel like she was truly mine.

I’d say it took until she was about six months old for me to start enjoying her properly. Now, she’s 20 months and I genuinely enjoy every day (not all of every day, that would be ridiculous), I find her hilarious, she’s like my little friend who I can laugh with and have proper conversations with.

Sometimes I look at her and feel overwhelmed by how much I love her. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. What’s also true is that didn’t happen the day she was born, it was probably about a year before I ever had that feeling. That’s not to say I didn’t love her – I did. But I had no idea how all-consuming that love could be, that the bond could deepen to a point where it would fundamentally change me as a person, that one day I would feel truly like a mother.

This time round I wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps because I’d already been through that process with Alexandra, perhaps because I was well this time, perhaps because he was so poorly or perhaps because I got to spend so much one on one time with him in hospital, it was almost an immediate feeling with Max. And that’s not to say I love him more than her, I love them equally although in different ways (and at different times depending who’s crying!).

Of course during my second pregnancy I had times when I wondered how I would feel about this baby. They tell you your heart will expand and it does. There was a little part of me that never healed after our first experience – a little Max sized hole in my heart that doesn’t take away from how much I love Alexandra but reflects how much my heart needed two little babies to love!

Harriet, Alexandra and Max x