Thanks Facebook. 

Friday, February 26, 2016.It’s 1045 and already it’s been a big day. 

Facebook does this thing where it likes to remind of you memories that happened in your Facebook past. Today it reminded me that one year ago exactly we announced to the world that we were having twins.

When it first popped up I immediately felt sad; angry at Facebook for reminding me of something that has so much heartache attached to it. Then I made myself stop and remember that although the pregnancy was pretty awful and the birth was horrifically traumatic, and the 6 months after that were the hardest we have ever had to survive through, it was actually a really happy day. We had amazing dreams of a family of four, two little identical boys running around causing mischief. We were excited about the future, the unknown, wondering who these little people would be and how we would raise them in the world. 

We felt special that we had become part of that small percentage of people who are gifted with identical twins. Unique. 

I was already planning in my head, the nursery, the names, the fun that we would have. William was thinking about taking them tramping, showing them the beauty of the country that we live in. 

So I stopped and pulled myself out of the sadness and tried to focus on those happy feelings that we had. That although the photo brought me reminders of loss it also represents a huge exciting time in our lives. We started on the road to becoming parents. 

Today also happens to be our 6 year wedding anniversary. It is also the day that I leave my two boys for a weekend away to celebrate some of our best friends, as they get married. As so often happens in life it’s a mixture of a day, with happy and sad intertwined. 

But the sun is shining and I’m pretty sure I haven’t forgotten too many things that I need, and I’m going to have an uninterrupted afternoon of reading my book at the airport, so it’s time to focus on the good. 

That 6th year of marriage was the toughest of the tough, and we are still an EPIC team. Neither of us could have made it to today without the other, and I don’t think it’s made us stronger, but it’s made us realise that falling apart is okay, because you have each other to help you put the pieces back together again. As you all know, a puzzle is much easier with a second set of eyes. 

Happy Friday everyone. Here’s to twins, marriages, lists, reading and love. 

  

To pump or not to pump, that is the question.

 
We’re back on the feeding. But in a different way. William came home last week and told me ‘there’s not many bags left in the freezer’ and I lost my mind for an evening as I thought about all the ways that I had failed as a mother. It’s a mum thing and as much as they want to help, dad’s just do not understand.

Whether you are breast, bottle or tube feeding, milk supply is an emotional subject. We all want to know that we are providing our child with everything that they need until they no longer need it. Sadly this is often not the case as our bodies can only make so much milk and if it’s not enough, then sadly it’s just not enough. So mum, after mum, after mum goes through the agony of adding formula, of letting the breast milk go. Not everyone. But a lot. 

I can’t speak about breast feeding, I don’t know what skin to skin at birth is like, what it feels like to put your baby to the breast just minutes after welcoming them to the world. But I can speak about expressing. About the agony of a midwife with bony hands squeezing your nipple to within an inch of its life, as she shows you how to express colostrum. About then trying to do the same while the husband tries to catch all the tiny drops with a syringe. About cherishing every little ml we can collect and taking it to our boys as the one thing we could do for them. About the milk coming in and the husband massaging huge, hard, sore breasts to get the milk out while you hold the cups to yourself and try not to cry from the pain. I can talk about the total sense of achievement when the bottles fill up easily and you know that it’s helping your miracle baby. But I can also talk about the misery of watching the milk fill up the bottles after your baby passes away, and the sight of it all making you want to scream. About the alarm going off in the middle of the night calling you to a breast pump that hurts your nipples and doesn’t look up at you with cute tired eyes while it does so. About the hours and hours we must have spent hooked up to that pump over the months, alone and bored. And the hours we spent hooked up to it alongside the other mums, chatting, supporting, just being there in silence. 

After you work so hard and long at something, anything, it’s incredibly disappointing when it starts to fail. When suddenly one day you realise when you express you’re not getting enough for a full feed, so you supplement it with milk from your freezer store. Until that day that you discover the freezer store is almost out and your ability to feed your child is almost gone. 

We have a love/hate relationship with expressing. Ask us any day, we hate it, it takes up so much time and effort, takes away from time that we can be with our baby. But if you say to us ‘stop doing it then’ we will look at you like you’re insane. And that is because of the milk guilt. 

If we had the opportunity to breastfeed we would have. And we wouldn’t stop until our baby didn’t want it anymore. But we didn’t. And if we choose to stop pumping or our milk runs out then it’s another tick on the list of mummy failures. We are not against using formula. We just don’t want to not use breastmilk. 

This is all made even more complicated when you’re tube feeding. What if we change to formula and try to get off the tube and he hates the taste? What if we add formula and his sensitive stomach revolts against it and we are back to screaming and spewing? What if we add formula and everything is a million times better and it was our milk all along that was bad? 

We all know the rational; the fed is best frame of mind. And we do try hard to keep it in the forefront. But we also need to grieve. To let go of one more thing on our parenting journey. We will let the milk go one day, but for a while we will all embrace the milk guilt and look crazy as we try to get supply back up. To buy us some time to process the sadness, so that when we do stop we are as ready as we can be. 

  

This one goes out to the Dads.

I write about mums. A lot. A lot, a lot. But there’s another person that’s there, working hard and feeling just as worn out and emotional a lot of the time: dads. 

As far as my husband is concerned we are 50/50 in this raising a child business. It just so happens that evolution has woman carrying the baby, and feeding the baby if she can, but he believes it’s important that we share in the load of it all. Not in an ‘I do one feed, you do one feed’ need to be fair type situation, but in a ‘you don’t need to make that decision/feel alone in this because I’m in this with you’ type situation. 

I think this is important too, because dads get left out a lot, and they don’t deserve that. We were so lucky I guess that his job allowed him time to be at the hospital 24/7 with his boys for the first two months, the work was minimal and he could step back and think about it later. This is different for a lot of families in the NICU whose dads have no time off because baby wasn’t supposed to be here yet. To a mum this feels hard and lonely, spending all day at the hospital alone and feeling the burden of the ups and downs without your number one support person. When my husband spoke about it he said that he also found it really hard, not being with his son, not being able to share the load with me and feeling like he was missing out on something. And this continues in the every day, with a preemie or a term baby. Dads feel left out, surplus to requirements, sometimes useless because mum feeds, and mum comforts and often, due to the simple fact of income differences mum is home and dad is at work. He, and a lot of others dads have told me that this changes once their child becomes older, more interactive, mobile and activities based. That doesn’t mean they don’t love their baby, that they don’t marvel at their tiny ears and little giggles, but they don’t get the same maternal pull that mothers have. So when dads need to get out and ‘do’ other things, think differently and be active, I don’t think it’s from a place of negativity, I think it’s purely from a desire to be useful, and if they can’t be useful to their child right now then they will do it in other ways. 

A big part of the struggle when you become a NICU dad is the feeling of failure. That as a father you should be protecting your children and before their lives even start you weren’t able to protect them from this. From a mums perspective I want to tell dads that you didn’t fail. You have and always will protect your children from all that you can, and the things that you can’t protect them from you will be there for the bear hugs afterwards, and that is what kids need. 

During your NICU stay? There’s not a lot you can do. Be there as much as you can. If you can’t, then just listen to what the team have to say, and discuss it with mum, make all your decisions together, because you’re a team. So many things about the hospital and the NICU and the journey will try to break that team, undermine it, and stretch the bands that hold you together to breaking point. But remember why you decided to bring a child into the world, to make your team a little bigger, so on the days when it feels like there’s too much raw emotion and misery to connect properly, tell each other. It’s okay to struggle and to cope in ways unique to you, but as much as you can, try and do it side by side. 

That little fighter in the incubator is desperate to be on your team and one of the best ways to protect your miracle child is to show the journey that it can’t break the team.

I think in the end I just really wanted to say thank you to the dads. We see you. You’re doing the best you can and that’s all we need. You rock. 

And you’ll get the boobs back in a year or ten.