Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bringing Home Babies - The First 2 Weeks


Hi, I'm Leyla!  It’s such a blessing to create a life, particularly to create 2 at the same time. To feel 4 legs kicking you, 4 elbows wriggling and squishing you and to see 2 babies suck their thumbs and nuzzle together inside you during routine scans. To get used to answering the question ‘is it a girl or a boy?’ with ‘both!’ and seeing people’s faces light up in amazement and prepare the home and family for the arrival of two newborns is beyond describable, but my pregnancy was a real mixture of emotions. I was excited to meet my babies but I also got quite apprehensive not knowing what to expect from the first few weeks of their arrival.  I wanted to write an honest account of my experience of the first two weeks of bringing 2 babies into the world.
I am torn between honesty and diplomacy here because I know how sensitive I was when I was pregnant so I don’t want to worry anyone who’s reading this with babies on the way but I have to write about our experience in an honest way and suggest maybe if you are a little worried about what’s to come, skip my emotions on the subject and head straight to the ‘what I’ve learned’ summary at the end then get someone to translate the rest in hormone friendly terms sometime whilst feeding you ice-cream and massaging your feet. ;)
I know I’m not an expert, my advice is just based on my own personal experiences. I never want to come across as though I am in any way more knowledgeable than other mums of multiples out there. I just want to share my experiences and maybe help other parents have an easier transition than I did.
I decided from very early on in Kian and Kaira’s gestation that I wanted an elected cesearian after complications during labour with Ariana and so from my 35th week of pregnancy I knew the date my babies would come into the world, which really helped me to get my mind and home organised. The whole experience of an elected caesarian was a really positive one (especially compared to the emergency one I had with my first born!).
I am beyond thankful that Kian and Kaira did not need any NICU time when they were born and although only 4.7 (Kaira) and 4.3 (Kian) pounds in weight, they were able to stay with me from the moment they came into the world at 9:08am and 9:15am on Wednesday. 23rd October 2013. I spent 4 days in the hospital with my 2 new little ones and decided I wanted to express milk for the babies, so the nurses helped me to feed them by cup every time they were hungry and I got up out of bed to pump with an electric Medela machine (leant to me by a breast care support worker at our nearby children’s centre) every 2 hours.
^^^The first time I held my babies. I was so proud of them and of myself. I couldn’t believe I had made these two angels that loved me with all their hearts^^^
That first day Kian and Kaira were born was such a special time. I didn’t have a long labour to recover from and at the touch of a button nurses came to give me pain relief from the operation so on the whole, I felt pretty good (all things considered!) I got to look into the eyes of the beautiful people I felt like I’d known for so long and to watch their daddy fall in love with them was more than I can formulate into in words on a keyboard! Ste stayed in hospital with me that night. Although the nurses came to ask all visitors to leave, I think they took pity on me stuck in bed with 2 babies to look after overnight so they let him stay in a chair at the side of us, passing babies to me one by one as and when they wanted me.
The babies were subjected to so many tests during those first few days. Heel pricks, I dont even remember what for, hearing tests and body temperature every few hours to ensure they could mainain their own despite their low birth weight. Every time the pediatricians prodded and poked, I remember holding my breath hoping that everything was fine for both my babies, which it was and I felt like the luckiest mummy in the world!
Unfortunately expressing milk didn’t work for me. I remember it was the middle of the night when I was sat in an upright chair at the side of my bed with Kaira asleep in the cot and Kian being fed by a midwife with formula in a cup. The noise from the machine was so loud and I sat there in pain with the pump whirring away for what felt like the 100th time that day and nothing was happening, even the midwife told me she thought it might be a good idea that I stopped trying. I remember feeling like a failure and getting back into my hospital bed sobbing because I hadn’t been able to provide milk for my babies and some time later (I must have nodded off) I remember being visited by another nurse in our dark room who whispered to me not to worry, that I’d tried my best and that as long as the babies were loved and cared for, whether they were fed by breast or bottle didn’t matter. She was like an angel to me in those early hours and although I was too emotional to thank her properly at the time, I made sure I called her after I got home to let her know how much her words had helped me.
So on our 3rd day, I started to feed the babies with the cartons of ready made formula I had taken into the hospital with me, using the disposable bottles provided to me by the nurses. I started to get to grips with feeding 2 tiny babies at the same time and changing their even tinier ‘micro nappies’.
Ste was with me from the minute visiting hours started and stayed as late as the nurses would allow and our very close relatives and friends came to visit too (I got so excited introducing the twins to their grandparents!) but Ariana was with my mum the entire time and so I felt a growing urgency to get home to be with her again.
Coming home
Bringing home 2 newborns felt really daunting to me. I was nervous, I was exhausted and I was recovering from an operation but I felt like I needed to be with Ariana again and I wanted to get her home to complete our family under one roof. The minute the nurses told us we could go home on the Saturday evening, we bundled the twins into their car seats, picked Ariana up on our way home and walked into a whole new world through our front door.
I think we envisaged getting Ariana straight to bed when we got in and concentrating on the babies but that didn’t happen, Ariana was far too excited to have her new brother and sister home. She wanted to feed them, change them, play with them and the only thing she didn’t want to do was go to bed! It was an eye opener trying to get 3 babies to sleep that night! When I heard all 3 of them crying at the same time for the first time, I remember feeling a panic bubbling under the surface inside me. I remember saying ‘what have we done?’ because I was so far out of my comfort zone, I felt completely overwhelmed with responsibility and a little lost if I’m being honest.
The night was long and a shock to the system for Ste who hadn’t really experienced a ‘night’ with the twins by this point. I’ll never forget the morning, Ariana seemed so grown up to me after nursing newborns for days. We brought her downstairs for breakfast and were so distracted feeding the babies their morning bottles, when I walked into the kitchen, she was sitting on the floor eating Cheerios out of the box. I was heartbroken. I felt like I had really let her down. I felt guilty and really beat myself up. Looking back, it was probably my hormones that made me make such a big deal of the situation because now when I look back, I am really proud that she had the sense to grab herself a bite to eat while we were busy! It was the start of us all learning how to share each other and divide our time, which we had never had to do before.
We kept the house so quiet during those early days. Ste was home from work so between us, we shared caring for Ariana and looking after Kian and Kaira. Their needs were so basic back then – feeding, cuddling and changing their nappies (around 100 a week!) We made sure that we had them in skin to skin contact as much as possible every day and I would alternate one baby each afternoon to take a nap snuggled up inside my shirt. I had an Etsy twin breastfeeding pillow that allowed me to sleep sitting up and rest the baby safely in my arms without fear of them falling to the side. They were the most perfect times. Sleeping with my newborn tucked up tightly against my skin. Seeing their little eyes search for me when they woke up and the warmth of their tiny body against mine. It’s something I definitely miss now they’re on their feet and running away from me most of the time!
Feeding the babies while Ste was home was easy as he was there to take one each, the only problem we could see was Kian not latching onto his bottle very well. At the time, we had no idea why but luckily a midwife called and during her routine visit, she looked into his mouth and saw that he had tongue-tie. She referred us to a specialist at the hospital there and then but the appointment we received was 2 weeks away so we really struggled to feed him before his operation. He gulped so much air (I could write a huge blog post on burping windy babies!) because his mouth wasn’t around the teat properly so we spent hours pacing the house trying to get him to burp after each feed (not fun during the night when there was only 2 hours between feeds anyway!)
Because I knew Ste was returning to work within a few days, I wanted Kian and Kaira on the same feeding schedule as soon as possible so we decided to feed both babies at the same time, even if it was only one of them that woke up for a feed, we would wake the other and feed them too. It might sound strange to feed a baby that isn’t crying for food but within a few days, they were both waking at pretty much the same time for their milk and that gave us a couple of hours in between to catch up with jobs, see to Ariana and prepare for the next feed.
Kian was also a sleepy feeder. He would wake up screaming for milk but then fall asleep after a few mouthfuls and wake up screaming again half an hour later. Because we wanted them feeding together, we encouraged him to be more wakeful during his feeds by talking to him, taking his little legs out of his sleepsuits and gently stroking his face. It really helped get that full feed into him and he slept much more soundly with a full stomach!
Sleeping arrangements
Ste used to describe the nursery as ‘the battleground.’ Some nights only 1 hour would pass between feeds and in the morning the room would be full of used bottles, spilt milk, damp muslin cloths, full nappy bags and 2 exhausted parents. Our babies slept in their own room from day 1 and we set up a chair bed in there with them then alternated which one of us slept with them. Babies make so much noise in their sleep. It’s hard to believe how 2 tiny things can snuffle and sneeze and whimper so much and that’s when they’re not crying. I couldn’t sleep through it so at least I had every other night to have a break in my own bed for a solid hour or two without being disturbed. 

One of the first days we brought the twins home from hospital, we had laid Kian and Kaira side by side in their little cot we had set up in the living room and as they settled we heard a noise coming from Kaira. We looked into the crib and saw her making a sniffing motion whilst faced away from Kian. I said ‘I think she’s looking for him’ and then we watched her little face turn from one side to the other until her nose practically touched his and she took a deep sigh and fell asleep. From that point on, we got rid of the 2 moses baskets we’d thought we’d use and kept them side by side in the foot of a cot bed in their nursery overnight and in a little crib downstairs during the day.
Everybody loves a newborn member of the family and twins have a certain mystical interest all of their own. It felt like the world wanted to visit when we first brought Kian and Kaira home, which I understood completely but we had read a lot of advice about how important it is to bond as a family with minimal interruption while I was pregnant and so it’s a viewpoint we adopted and as close relatives had visited the babies while we were still in hospital, they had already seen them when we came home.
We explained that we wanted time to bond as a family and so kept the first 2 weeks a very quiet space so that I could take the babies to bed with me whenever I wanted skin-to-skin contact and to get them into the rhythm of our household. I really feel like babies pick up on their parents vibes, especially their mummy’s! Even now if I’m anxious or unhappy, I think the kids can sense it! It’s in our body language, our heart rates, our breath. They know when we’re happy or sad and if we’re anxious about visitors seeing us in our dressing gowns with baby sick on our shoulder, hair unwashed and piles of dirty nappies at our feet, I feel like they’ll pick up on that and manifest our worries.
The last thing we ever want is our children to have any anxiety so we kept our home as stress free as possible in those early days and our families and friends were really respectful of our space. We knew they were there if we needed them but they allowed us the time to bond that we needed, which was really important for us as a new family of 5. We did have a few hot meals delivered though and for that I will always be grateful!
On the subject of visitors, I have to mention GERMS. I am happy to hold my hands up (after I’ve washed them of course) and admit that I might be at risk of becoming the new word that’s crept into the English language – a ‘germaphobe.’ Once you’ve dealt with 2 babies who can’t sleep because their noses are full of snot and cry in pain because they’re ill you will understand why I am terrified of people passing on their germs to my babies! We asked everyone (friends, relatives, midwives and health visitors) to take off their shoes and wash their hands on entering our home when the babies were tiny. It may sound extreme but I wouldn’t wish illnesses like Norovirus on anyone and whatever amount of mocking I may have had behind my back for asking people to clean their hands before handling our children was worth it. I’ll put the health of my family before anyone else’s sensitivities any day!
IMG_1642What I’ve learned:
It’s lovely to keep a birth partner overnight: I was really lucky to get a private room in the hospital when the twins were born, which allowed Ste to stay with me overnight without disturbing any other patients on the ward. I really needed him with me that night, for personal and practical reasons and I think it would be worth asking really nicely if the nurses would allow that to happen in your local hospital when your twins arrive. Our reasoning was it would be a lot less work for them if he was there to tend to the babies with me rather than me needing their help all night. It’s worth a try!
Stay in hospital: until you feel confident in feeding, changing, bathing and holding 2 babies I recommend staying in hospital for as long as possible. The nurses can offer so much help and advice when you’re exhausted from whatever delivery you’ve been through and especially make the most of having hot meals delivered to you. You won’t be getting many of them when you get home!
Tongue-tie: with all the tests the doctors did on the babies when they were born, I am amazed that no-one looked into their mouths and did a simple check of their tongue. If we had known Kian was tongue-tied, perhaps they could have done the procedure to free it much sooner than the battle we had for weeks trying to feed him and watching him struggle. He was so tiny, it really upsets me how much he suffered with his attachment in those early days so I really recommend asking a nurse to have a quick look before you are discharged.
Breast feeding: I envy people who make a decision about how they want to feed their baby/babies early in their pregnancies because it takes away so much worry and guilt. I wish I’d have decided that from knowing I had a toddler to take care of and 2 newborns to feed, expressing milk probably wasn’t going to be an easy task and not let myself be guilt tripped into taking on such a huge responsibility that my body evidently couldn’t take. As long as babies are loved and cared for, where a mummy decides to provide their milk from is a personal choice and one that shouldn’t be influenced by anyone else. I would say making a decision and sticking to it is the best you can do and know you’re a good parent regardless how you choose to feed your little one/s.
Organise your home-coming: time it right, in between the babies feeds and early enough in the day so that you can set up bottles and feeding equipment before the night shift begins. Arrange child care for older sibling/s if you can so that the babies can be settled in their new surroundings before their older brother or sister comes home full of energy and excitement at meeting the new arrivals to their home. It’s an introduction that I feel needs to be handled delicately.
Sleeping arrangements: be prepared. There is a list here of the items I think are essential to have at home when the babies come here. If you can set up the nursery with certain things it will feel less stressful when you’re dealing with the demands of 2 newborns as you will have everything you need to hand without fumbling around in the dark downstairs. Decide on where your babies will sleep before they come home. My advice is to keep them side by side for as long as they will fit. Mine were really comforted by each other’s prescence and after 9 months of being so close together in the womb it’s hardly surprising.
Skin-to-skin contact: whether it’s with mummy or daddy or another really important person that will be in your baby or babies life, get those little ones stripped off and snuggled against you as much as possible. There’s so much research been done on the benefits including the release of feel good hormones that help with the bonding process, whether breast or bottle feeding. If babies do need time in special care at hospital, the nurses will ensure parents get time to do this too. More information can be found on Babycentre.
Visitors: limit visitors in the first 2 weeks. Let very close family visit while you’re still in hospital and timings are regulated so there’s no possibility of anyone encroaching on those all important feed times and you have no other household tasks to tend to (making people cups of tea is a big no!) If people do call ask them to bring supplies – nappies, wipes, food! The last thing you need is flowers! You won’t have time to water yourself, never mind a pretty bunch of carnations. Invest in hand sanitizers by the entrance door for guests to use before they touch the babies or ask them to wash their hands. It’s your home and your babies, don’t ever feel like you need to apologise for protecting them.
Feeding together: try to get the babies feeding at the same time. Whether that’s by tandem breast of bottle feeding, in the long run it’ll be worth it. If you have a sleepy feeder, take their legs out of their clothes before feeding. Play music or sing and talk to your baby. Make day time feeds a light and bright experience so babies soon begin to realise the difference with their day and night time feeds.
The home: I’ve had to get better at this as time has gone on since having babies and realise that the housework is not as important as giving my little ones the attention they need. Particularly in the early days, it’s important to prioritise the essentials, so for me that was clean bottles, clean clothes and a stocked fridge and freezer (having the Tesco ap on my phone to do our food shopping online and have it delivered was a lifesaver as was freezing portions of food while I was pregnant for use in the first few weeks!) I still have to remind myself now that the sticky fingerprints all over our windows and the ironing pile that just keeps on growing doesn’t matter. In the first few weeks of bringing home babies, the most important thing to do when you get the chance of a break is to rest. The housework can wait (a good few years until they’ve moved out!)
Now I’ve re-read this post, I’m really hoping I haven’t worried anyone who is pregnant with twins at the moment. I remember seeing pictures on Instagram and reading blogs when my babies were young and it was all smiles and sentiments about how perfect their lives were with these perfect new babies and I worried that I wasn’t good enough a parent because my experience was so much more stressful but I do think all babies are different and all families cope differently with new arrivals and that’s either singular or multiple! I just really want to be honest because I feel really strongly that as women and parents and just people in general, we should all stick together and try to empower each other by sharing both the tough and touching times. There’s no shame in admitting when we struggle and I will happily admit that bringing home 2 babies is hard work. It’s exhausting and challenging and I found myself relying on reserves of strength I didn’t even know I had just to drag myself and my little family through the day but I got through it and my memories now are 50% stress and 50% amazing, wonderful, life changing times that have brought us closer together than I ever thought was possible. The love we have for each other is unconditional and unbreakable and worth all the ups and downs of those first few months.
I am aware that I talk a lot about caring for 2 babies from a point of view of being in a 2 parent family but I think if you’re pregnant and facing bringing home baby/babies as a 1 parent family then it might be a good idea to ask for help from parents, siblings and friends. In the UK there is a service called Home Start and I was in touch with them after Ste went back to work. They offered me some support via a volunteer service, which I didn’t follow through with  in the end but the support worker I met with was superb and I would suggest calling them if anyone reading this feels like they need additional support. My Health Visitor has also been a great source of support. Contacting your local children’s centre will point you in the right direction. Also, if money is no object nanny’s, cleaners and even night nannies would help immensely. I was in contact with a service called Night Nannies during my most desperate times and they offered to send a twin specialist to our home and sleep overnight, looking after our babies while we slept and even waking us with breakfast in the morning (yes please!) for around £150. That wasn’t in our budget and even though I was tempted to sell a kidney at one point (the husbands, not mine of course) I wasn’t sure about leaving my babies with strangers overnight anyway, but each to their own and lots of people do pay for additional support such as this and find it helps.
I hope this post has provided a little insight into the first 2 weeks of bringing home babies. 
The best of luck to you and your big bump.
Love from Leyla

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