Guest Post: Settling into mum life is HARD by Anna Reeve

Guest Post: Settling into mum life is HARD by Anna Reeve

Leaving the hospital with twins in tow left me so relived, relieved I got to start normal life at home with my babies, relived to settle into life as a fully fledged family of four, relived to be able to sleep in the same bed as my husband, have home comforts and hopefully start falling in love and bonding big time with these babies who kind of bewildered me at that time! Basically I was desperate to leave (read my last hospital blog post here) and be done with NICU/PIN, but in reality I had no idea what I was really in for in the coming days, weeks or months...or when my fucking soul destroying vomiting would finish.  Before I dive deep into this next blog, I just want to say that I know my last three blog posts; Pregnancy,  My Birth Pt 1 & My Birth Pt2 have scared some people, especially those expecting twins. I just want to preface all of this that my pregnancy wasn't normal! Whilst being ill in the first trimester is common, it's not actually "normal" to be sick the entire time that's why Hyperemesis Gravdium is an illness. It fucking sucks, like it literally sucks the life out of you, I hated being pregnant. But please don't stress if you have just found out you are pregnant with twins that this will be what you will have to face too. You may, but more people won't than will. Also the whole difficult birth and not bonding thing...that’s something I know a lot of people are scared about. Please don't let my experience scare you, I write about how I was feeling as I personally found I never heard anyone have an experience like mine. Which in turn made my difficulties bonding that much harder, I felt alone, like a failure, a bad mum and person all rolled into one. I'm writing about these experiences in the hope that I help even just one person realise that IS normal, you aren't a bad mum or any of the above if you don't instantly fall head over heels in love with your child. It can take time and that is FINE, trust me. So I'm sorry if those posts or what I'm about to cover does freak you out. It's not my intention, I just want to share, because by sharing these experiences we can all feel connected and realise that the feelings we are battling aren't uncommon. They are what make you human after all, we need to feel, even if it feels like it isn't the "right" feelings.

So where was I? Leaving hospital was scary but super exciting as it was our first steps back into normality, or our "new normal". We were warned the boys may be unsettled at home first as it would be quiet where they were used to a bright, busy and noisy hospital room. I hadn't done much reading on routines or books on what to do with a newborn, I just had the info I had been told in birthing class, by my midwives and from friends. I knew that I wanted the boys to learn how to self settle in a cot and that I should demand feed them to start with. I was super strict about not letting them always fall asleep on our chests as I didn't want them getting used to that while Jay was on leave and then in two weeks time leave me with two bloody babies that wanted to sleep on me 24/7. Wasn't happening on my watch!

Certain details are a bit of a blur in those first few weeks as I was still being sick once we got home. So much so that I had to take my newborn twins to the local A&E only two days after we got home, as I had pretty much not managed to keep anything down since we left the hospital. I was sitting on the couch, trying to breast feed all the while suddenly needing to de latch babies, throw (well not quite throw) them to Jay to hang my head over the toilet. I didn't want to expose my little prem men to all the bugs at A&E but I knew I could be there for a long time and I was exclusively BF and hadn't managed to pump enough milk off to feed them. In fact they hadn't even had a bottle yet. That was the main reason I went to A&E, I was super paranoid my milk would be compromised by the lack of food and liquids. ANNNNYWAY, I ended up spending a good 4 hours at A&E hooked up to multiple IV bags, all the while trying to breast feed the little dudes. It was misery, I was crying and in so much pain. The IV line hurt my arm and it was in the crook, so trying to hold the boys while BF made it worse. IV bags tend to make me freezing too, all the cold saline entering your veins . So I'm cold, in pain and trying to manage feeding two hungry, crying and un-settled babies in a curtained off cubicle for 4 hours. Not to mention I was exhausted and desperate to sleep. It sucked! Lucky the IV bags seemed to do the trick, it got me on the level enough that I could eat small things and over the next week that awful vomiting stopped. So finally, 2.5 weeks post birth I was done with being really aquainted with the toilet bowl.

We had our baby photo shoot for Woman's Day after a week at home, the boys were pretty good and slept most of the time. I remember doing the interview and talking about how awesome the boys were and shedding a little tear. They wrote how I was emotional out of love and happiness during the interview, but in reality I was crying because everything I was saying didn't entirely match up. I felt like a fraud but I couldn't tell Jay let alone Woman's Day how I was feeling! I loved my kids because I knew they were something Jay and I created, but I wasn't in love with them yet and to be honest I didn't really like them yet, they were so demanding and I was still recovering and just so exhausted from everything. So far they hadn't added anything amazing to our lives like everyone said they would, they were in brutal honesty, being a big pain in the ass and I often called them "tiny little assholes" (hey sometimes I still do, but only when they are being very naughty). There were some serious moments of why did I want to do this again? When I read that article it makes me so sad, I look happy and I was I guess, but I really was playing the doting ‘in love mum’ when in reality that wasn't how I was feeling.  I went through all the motions, attended to every cry, cuddled them, told them I loved them but I knew it was all out of what I was meant to be doing instead of really wanting to. It's a very sad and hard time to think about.

After Jay went back to work, my mum who wasn't working at the time came to help during the weekdays - and thank god, I couldn't have done it without her help! The boys had clicked into their collic and reflux stage (not that we had it diagnosed yet) and screamed constantly. They slept, at most, 40 minutes but often only 20 and then pretty much cried the entire wake time unless being held, but often that didn't work either. I remember mum being so shocked with how "hard" they were, not the sleepy child out newborns my brother and I, and most babies are. We had borrowed a bassinet from a friend and I remember she put them both in there one day when they were crying, she was walking around swinging and rocking it by the handles trying to get them to quiet down to no avail. It was physically and emotionally draining both of us.

Once they were out of hospital they were on a two hourly fading schedule and they kept it for 16 weeks, day and night!! They never stretched their feeds out overnight.  It was grueling! Every time I brought it up to a professional they said it was normal, maybe it is, but it was the worst thing for my mental health at the time and could have done with some advice on how to stretch their feeds out as everything I tried didn't work. I'm big on having my own space so having babies attached to both of my breasts pretty much all day and night was pretty intense for me. I just wanted a few hours each day that I could have a little bit of a physical "bubble" around me but that didn't happen. It could take an hour to tandem feed the twins and then an hour later they would want to be back on there again. Seriously? The night was the worst, you would finish feeding and go back to sleep for about 40 minutes if that. I would hear them cry again and wake up in a panic that I had fallen asleep with them in bed and that they were already on my chest. The 40 minutes naps throughout the night seriously felt like minutes. I was a zombie and Jay was really tired too as he helped me with the feeds at night. I'm so lucky to have a supportive husband who got up at every feed with me, I know a lot of dads don't, but Jay saw that as an important thing he could do to help make my life easier where possible. The boys would wake, I would sit up and get my feeding pillow on/set up and he would bring the babies in one by one and help me position them in my tandem feeding position. He would then get back into bed and sleep, I would wake him once they were finished and we would both burp them. Jay would check/change their nappies and place them back in bed. If they needed settling then we would both get up and help them get back to sleep. It was a good little routine and I can't imagine surviving those first 16 weeks with 2 hourly feeding without him.

I was crying a lot at home and Jay was making small murmurings about being worried I had post natal depression, but I of course wrote it off saying it was normal and that I was just tired. I didn't want to tell him how I wasn't bonding as I felt like a failure and if you know me, I don't like to fail at anything! I'm quite stubborn. Typical Leo!

I remember the first time I really opened up to anyone about it was my friend Aja. She had a baby the same time as me and spent two weeks in NICU with me as her baby girl was in the cot next to the boys too. I guess I felt more comfortable sharing it with her as she understood the NICU side of things. I went for a coffee date at her house and remember bursting into tears when I spoke about the boys and how hard I found it. It was nice to let a bit of emotion out but I definitely didn't explain myself fully. I actually found it really hard to explain just how bad things were to anyone because, you wouldn't believe it...the few times we did go to mum catch ups with my friends the boys were pretty good. No more grizzly than your average baby! I think they all thought I was over exaggerating, or just couldn't comprehend it because they hadn't seen it yet.

Ah the crying, all day every day! This is at I think about a level 4 out of 10 with how they could get.

At 10 weeks someone finally said we should see a doctor about the crying and the vomiting. The boys were power chucking after meals and even an hour or two after one. No one previously had been worried about reflux as you usually don't put on weight when its bad, but my guys had been putting on 250-400g a week! I may have been having a hard time but apparently my milk was pure cream! But considering they had been feed two hourly 24/7 they bloody well should have been putting on weight! We went to Dr Liang and he diagnosed them both with Reflux and Collic. We were given Losec and a muscle relaxant we could give for the Collic. I think things got a little better over the next few weeks but nothing drastic that made me think either drug was working.

During all this poor Jay wasn't getting a look in, I couldn't give the boys what they needed emotionally, look after myself and give him the love and affection he needed either. I felt like I was pulled in a  million different directions and just wanted to hide in a room by myself. I know some people may be reading this and thinking I need to suck it up, crying babies, no sleep, being covered in all sorts of liquids is normal when you have a new baby. I get that, but this was bad and I was falling apart emotionally. I was caring for the boys perfectly well and they essentially were thriving in the terms that they were gaining weight, were healthy other than the reflux etc but I was not thriving, I felt like my light was slowly been put out! It really didn't help when I would mention to people how hard it was and they would just say my boys were beautiful, amazing a blessing etc. I knew all that, but I felt like my feelings weren't being recognised and that in turn made it even harder for me to share them. It was very frustrating! I had some moments where I had to put the boys in their cot and walk outside for 5 minutes as their incessant screams had me at breaking point. It was like torture, I swear when they are really grizzly now and have a bad day and cry a lot its like I go straight back to that time when they were little. It's like post traumatic stress disorder, I instantly tense up and feel sick. It's an ongoing battle I have trying to calm myself, breathe and realise I'm not in that space anymore. One day while my mum was away on holiday my Plunket nurse came for a home visit and the boys were screaming and had ben for hours, I was a wreck with bloodshot and swollen eyes from crying just as much as them. I even have memories of yelling back at them and screaming "I can scream louder than you, shut up!". Not my finest moments and it makes me very sad when I think back on them. Luckily I had an amazing Plunket nurse and she arranged for a nice lady from some public service (can't remember what one) to come watch the boys for 4 hours while I slept one day. Thanks Barbara!

At 18 weeks everything came to a head, I was in a Plunket visit and mum was there helping. They ask you all these questions like what is your baby doing, does he smile, at you, do you play blah blah blah and I just burst into tears and pretty much bawled. Ah this makes me cry writing this. I finally admitted that was a walking zombie and was having a really hard time bonding, I admitted I didn't think I loved my children because all I could think about was them screaming at me, constantly needing to be feed, vomiting all over me and them not sleeping. I was an emotional, exhausted, wreck and a bit of a shell of who I was. During my meltdown I could see the look of shock on my mums face, she had been with me every day and had no idea. I had done a really good job of playing the part obviously. It was agreed mum would take the boys for a few days so I could rest and talk about how I was feeling with Jay and just generally try to see if getting some rest would make me feel better. It was really nice to have a few days to myself and to sleep! I even went for a ride with Jay on his motorbike, something we used to love doing together pre babies. It did help me feel a little better as I wasn't so tired anymore, but I almost felt worse that my mum could look after my babies for 48hours herself where I was still too scared to do that/ didn't think I could cope on my own like that yet. You can't win right?

As I have mentioned before I'm a battler, so I got stuck back into parenting and did my best to look like I was doing well. I remember taking my first trip with the boys out of the house by myself, getting them in capsules, clipping them in, going to a mall and setting up the pram and getting them all in there. I was super proud as when I had given birth I was petrified of ever having to get out of the house with them by myself and had no idea how I could even manage it! It seemed so scary, which is funny looking back on that now as it's just part of life and something I don't even think about being an issue anymore.  I was definitely starting to bond with the boys and that was getting better daily, but I still was filled with anxiety and questioned how good at this whole parenting thing I was. I felt a disconnect between me and my new life as a mum. Jay finally spoke to someone who had suffered PND and she recommended I talk to a therapist who specialised in the area. I started seeing her and she recommended I start taking anti depressant's, I don't know why but I didn't feel comfortable taking them. I know they help so many people but I wanted to see how I felt after seeing her for a little longer before going down that route. I saw the therapist for 6 weeks and it really made a huge difference to my mental health. She said I was suffering post natal situational distress and anxiety rather than depression from a chemical imbalance. Basically all of this was happening because motherhood hadn't lived up to what it should've in my head, first was the emergency birth, the hospital stay, being so sick still, and then babies that were un well and screamed all day. She told me it was perfectly normal to not bond straight away with a tiny human who just took from you all day as well as screamed in your face the entire time. Having someone validate my feelings, and help me see them from a different view point and make me realise I'm not crazy made me feel so much better, just having someone sympathise and understand instead of instantly trying to turn it around into a positive like "well aren't you lucky to have two beautiful babies" and other comments like that helped so much. She taught me it was OK to only be slowly falling in love and bonding with my babies. I knew now this was going to be a slow burn and I was ok with that. I now knew that it was actually normal to feel this way and many mothers do. It's not all rainbows and lollipops like some mothers feel (lucky them!) and that one day I would wake up and realise my heart is so full with love that I wouldn't be able to remember quite how it felt to not love them. I was going to be alright and I realised  with her help that talking about it made me feel so much better. I finally felt strong enough to share with people my dirty secrets like not liking my children, feeling like I was failing and that I wasn't going to survive this mother hood gig. I got such an outpouring of love and support it was amazing. If only I did this earlier?

It's funny because as soon as I told people how I was really doing then everyone stepped up their game to support me and they suddenly really saw what I had been talking about, they were tough work. My mum went away on holiday so my friends  would come help often, especially my friend Jamie who would come most afternoons to help me with witching hours, I was so grateful and it was really amazing for their bond as they love her so much as they spent a lot of time together. Whenever Julia came over from Sydney she would get up in the mornings with them to give us sleep ins. My friend Emma came over with her mother in law one time and the boys were just upset and crying the whole time, I ditched the kids with them for ten minutes so I could hang all my washing up outside. I came back in and you could really see the reality of what my day-to-day life had dawned upon them. It was nice for people to finally see and understand why I had been in a tailspin.

By the time the boys hit 6 months a lot of the reflux and colic symptoms had started to dwindle, thank the fucking lord/higher power/ energy whatever you want to call it. They still were waking a few times a night and were adamant cat nappers (even Dorothy Waide couldn't crack them to make them slip longer than 40 minutes!) but I was learning to deal with it. We even managed to take a family trip to America to visit my brother and Grandma who lives in San Diego, the boys travelled super well and there weren't too many meltdown moments on the trip. My mum even watched the boys overnight so we could go stay in a hotel alone and have some time out together. Dreamy. Have you worked out by now how amazing my mum is?

I think by 6 months I was really starting to bond with the boys and my heart was slowly being filled to the brim with love for them. Gosh it was such a relief to wake up and feel that one day. It's what I had been waiting for since I was pregnant and felt that disconnect / anger at them for making me feel so awful.

6 months to a year we got the hang of our new schedule, I was coping much better and really loving being a twin mum after all that shit we went through in the first 6 months of their lives. The boys started sleeping through at 10 months, although they were and still are early risers.  I actually think I started nailing it, I was on top of everything, the boys were happier as they weren't in as much pain anymore, I was getting out of the house and managing to catch up with my friends. Life was good. It's funny how feeling like I was doing a great job really helped with my mental health, I was suddenly confident in myself, my abilities and my parenting. I have a very relaxed style to parenting now and I think that is what helped me get through everything in the end. The only thing I'm strict about is nap time/bed time routine, otherwise I am very go with the flow. It made life easier being able to let go of the little things when something went wrong or not to plan, which let’s face it, always happens with twins! Hitting that one year milestone was the best, we had a big party to celebrate as we wanted to celebrate their lives but also thank all the people it took to get us to that point. We also wanted a bit of a night out to congratulate ourselves too. It was such a special day and I couldn't believe how far we had come as a family unit. I always say if there were cracks that were going to show in my relationship with Jay it would have been during that first year, and none did. We never had a big fight about everything that was going on, and Jay was pretty good about me wanting my own space after the boys went to bed at night. I was just so sick of having two people cling to me all day that by 7pm I wanted to sit on the couch and not have another much larger human wanting to cling to me too. Poor Jay got bugger all sex that first year. I know he felt neglected and intimacy is what makes him feel loved, but I just couldn't get my mojo back for a long time, it was the last thing I wanted and actually made me feel really un comfortable, and to be honest, it's not the same it was pre pregnancy even now! Sorry babe! But we are so good. We have such a great foundation and those tough times really made us realise we can handle anything together, as long as we tackle it as a team. I'm a very lucky woman to have a man like Jay, he seriously is one of a kind. Ask any of my friends and they know he is a really special man.

So that's that, a small (seriously I know this seems long but there are so many other ups and downs I could write about, but don't want to bore you all!) snap shot of us settling into twin life. I didn't cover too much about breastfeeding, sleep training, learning to settle babies and all of that nitty gritty stuff, as it would make this the longest post ever.

Thanks for reading these stories about my IVF journeypregnancybirthhospital stay and our new normal life with twins. It's been really hard to re-live and lots of tears have been shed over my keyboard, but It was great to get it all down and share that having a hard time, like I did, is normal too. Don't worry, you will get there! I look at my boys today and I could just about cry with how much I love them, when at the start I could cry with how much I didn't feel that bond. So chin up, keep on doing what you are doing, talk to your loved ones and you too will wake up one day and everything would have changed for the better.


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