Who will my girls look up to?

Feminism has come a long way. I feel immensely thankful and privileged to live in the UK at this point in history. I’m a strong-willed mama who wouldn’t be at home in 1916 Britain and it’s disgusting that in many places across the world, women are still openly oppressed and repressed. Here in the West, our lives as women have improved vastly and in many circles of life, we can feel that sexism doesn’t exist. I’m pleased that so many men are now standing up and declaring themselves as feminists (RIP Alan Rickman!) but unfortunately, #everydaysexism still exists. There are multiple examples throughout our social media newsfeeds (such as trolls who threaten to rape women who express an opinion) as well as throughout our day-to-day lives (we’ve all seen the catcalling videos).

And then there’s the media in general. The age-old “sex sells” (I didn’t realise I was a prude until I saw thisĀ article) and the fact that women who want to be famous (a goal I will never understand) can stand a better chance if they lose weight, dye their hair, get breast implants, botox injections and basically get their kit off.

Does it have to be this way? Am I being too much of an idealist? Do men actually feel the same pressures? Is this the world I want to raise my kids in?

A close friend of mine recently had a bit of a social media rant about the lack of strong, female role models for little girls in her favourite 80s movies. She, like me, was a scrappy little kid who could give as good as she got on the playground. We reminisced about the films we watched as children (some of them not necessarily intended for children to watch, but hey-ho) and it quickly became apparent that the vast majority of them contained male heroes, and that the female characters – where they existed – were passive, weak, objectified by men or just not fully fleshed out characters in comparison to their male counterparts. Who were our favourite characters in The Goonies, Star Wars, The Neverending Story, Flight of the Navigator or Indiana Jones? Who stood out? Who saved the day?

When a film dared to break the mold, we took notice. We may have been too young to watch them but watch them we did: Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, we salute you!

Fast forward to the 21st century and everyone’s wetting themselves over Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And rightly so! I love that Rey is strong, feisty, talented, and not at all overly sexualised. With clothing that wraps her slim frame in such a way as to make her almost androgynous, she is a true role model for those scrappy little girls who don’t want to grow up to be a pink, sparkly, fairy princess. The last time I got so excited about a female lead was when I watched Kill Bill – but maybe that’s not one to show my girls until they’re older!

I’m a bit of a Star Wars heathen because I actually didn’t watch the original three films until I was an adult. I enjoyed them (but I didn’t love them), and one of the first comments I made to The Hubs was that they were rather male-centric as the only main female character was Princess Lea and she seemed rather wishy-washy half the time (sorry fans!). I feel that the new film has burst some of the barriers wide open; from the fantastic female lead to the likable and non-backstabbyLando Finn.

There remain barriers to be broken when it comes to the media-saturation my kids will experience. I still hear people say that female comedians, for example, are not as funny as male comedians. I have to admit that in my experience of the comedians I’ve seen – both live and on TV – this has been true. But I doubt very much that there is any genetic truth in this; I believe, instead, that for a multitude of reasons, fewer women have aspired to become comedians, and that of those who have, fewer have been able to break it into the mainstream. Therefore, what we have seen so far is unlikely to be the full extent of women’s talent in this regard.

I want to be able to tell my girls that they can be anything they want to be, if they work hard enough for it. What I don’t want to have to tell them is that they’ll have to work harder than men to get there, or that when they do, they’ll be expected to do or say things that a man would not be expected to do or say. And yes I am an idealist, because I believe we’ll get there. Let’s just hope it’s some time soon.

Childbirth: not like it is in the movies!

No matter how many times a read a blog or magazine article – or received advice from family, friends and midwives – I stubbornly (and secretly) nevertheless believed that MY birth story would be amazing. That mine would follow the “plan” I had in mind. That I would find the pain bad but somehow satisfying and that my body would know what to do.

Well what a crock of crap. And here you are, reading this now, thinking your birth story will be the one you want it to be. What I say will likely make no difference but here it is: it’s at best a birth WISH LIST. The fact that the hospital encourages you to write a birth PLAN is just setting you up for failure, and the endless pieces you’ll read about how to write a birth “plan” and what it should contain will be the final nail in the coffin for you.

One of the main culprits for selling the lie has to be Hollywood. I’ve watched plenty of birth scenes in films and they usually consist of women who look impossibly glamorous (by which I don’t just mean WAG-style make-up and hair. I’m saying that if the woman looks anything other than a bloated corpse hauled from a river then she already looks significantly better than I did), who do shed the odd tear or drop of sweat but otherwise look OK. One of the main issues with any fictional birth scene is that the actor may have a great fake bump – possibly even unclothed – but they don’t have the swollen feet, the acne, the greasy hair, the extra body hair (yeah, that came as a surprise to me too!) and the stretch marks that I and so many others I know had to endure.

In movies/TV shows, even where a woman is in obvious pain, she somehow gets to the finish line with – at most – gas and air, but often with neither as the plotline means she needs to give birth somewhere unplanned like in a car, at home, or somewhere equally un-hospital-esque. Now, I know that MANY women give birth without the assistance of drugs, and many have homebirths. I also know that women have done those things since the dawn of time. But here’s the thing: how many of those women actually survived childbirth? A brilliant film which actually hints at the potential awfulness of childbirth is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The film begins with the bloody aftermath of the event and the consequent death of the mother. Without medical intervention, death through childbirth would be more prevalent (and unfortunately, this is still the case in some parts of the world).

The other thing Hollywood fails to depict is the utter BOREDOM involved in a birth, particularly one involving induction (such as my own experience). Of course in Hollywood, the woman is also only carrying one child, but this aside, One Born Every Minute at least got THAT part right. Has anything happened yet? No. Feeling anything yet? No. Any progress? No, for the love of God, NO! In Hollywood, birth is always dramatic and anger-fuelled. Rachel in Friends head butted Ross. I was so out of it from the pain and high on gas and air that for a period of time I not only forgot my husband was in the room but I forgot he existed altogether!

By the time my first twin was born, I barely had the energy to be excited. Thanks to an epidural, I was no longer in pain but I literally fell asleep in between contractions. To someone who’s given birth drug-free, that might sound a little insane… But then that would be quite fitting, because I honestly think I lost my mind at one point. By twin 2 (born over an hour later, due to complications), I was barely able to stay conscious, vomiting profusely and completely away with the fairies!

There are no words to describe the pain of contractions pre-epidural. I can’t even remember that pain now. My brain has protected me from that memory. I do know that in the EARLY stages of labour, I was already not coping. And as for my body knowing what to do… Well, my body decided that it wanted to get on all fours and squat like a gorilla. And that makes total sense, anatomically. Hollywood – to this day – still shows births on our backs, when nature didn’t design us that way. Unfortunately, nature didn’t really intend for us to carry more than one child at once either. So although every fibre of my being wanted to turn over and bear down on the pain, I wasn’t afforded that little luxury because my midwife refused to allow it. If I moved off my back, the heart monitors dislodged and she could no longer track the twins’ heartbeats. I felt so out of control.

Before finding out I was expecting twins, I had envisaged a calm water birth in ambient lighting, with relaxing music and a real organic feel to the whole experience. Instead, the experience was stiflingly hot (the middle of a heat wave), clinical, bright and chaotic. Knocked Up did a better job but where was the copious amount of blood???

I know this is stupid – on a logical level -but succumbing to an epidural made me feel like a failure. I have never seen that depicted in a movie or a TV show.

The ONE thing I can’t disagree with is the way every new Big Screen Mama is shown to fall in love with her new baby at first sight. I didn’t cry (I had no energy left for tears) but the feeling of love was overwhelming. But that’s just me. I know that many moms don’t feel that, and I know that many suffer with PND, but it was the one Hollywood portrayal I was lucky enough to experience.

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

I’m not the perfect Mama

I constantly wish I was a better Mama to my twins. 50 years ago, I reckon moms just rolled their sleeves up and got on with it, but these days, we are bombarded with books, articles and TV shows telling us just how much we’re getting it wrong, what the consequences are, and how we should be doing it better.

And none of them agree of course. So we’re screwed because we can’t possibly listen to all of them (or, God forbid, use our own instincts/common sense) because they contradict one another. And I’m still waiting to read the piece of advice that is tailored exactly to the needs of my kids. Which of course would need to be two pieces in my case.

“You should be down on the floor (screw your knees!) playing with your child at their level (and screw your sanity!)”

“Your child should be using a cup rather than a bottle (screw your carpet!)”

“You should read to your kids (screw the fact that they’re CLEARLY not listening) and you should read WITH them (screw the fact that they shove you out of the way because they are fiercely independent; they don’t know what’s good for them!)”

“You should be encouraging your children to be independent (screw your feelings!)”

“You should be constantly cuddling your babies and making them feel secure (screw your housework!)”

“You should play outside with your kids (screw the weather!)”

“You should be careful where your child plays (screw their freedom and sense of adventure!)”

“You shouldn’t let them watch too much TV (screw their love of CBeebies!)”

“You should avoid technology (screw the modern world!)”

“You should get them an iPad (screw your old skool sensibilities!)”

“You should…”

“You shouldn’t…”

Screw all of it. I’m doing the best I can.

Losing control

I never realised the extent to which I am a control freak until the day the Hubs and I went for my routine 12-week scan. I had the next 20 years mapped out: us raising our child to adulthood in our little two-bedroom house, all cosy and simple. And then the sonographer said, “Remember how when you came in, I told you that one of the reasons we perform a scan is to check there’s only one baby in there? Well there are two.”

CLUNK. That’s my jaw hitting the floor.

Everything I’d imagined was ripped away in an instant. You know that water birth you wanted? Pah! Try being strapped to the hospital bed like a crazy person (actually quite fitting, considering how much I completely lost my mind during labour). Remember the budget you attempted to create? The one you scrutinised for MONTHS before finally coming to the conclusion that you could just about afford to have a child? Yeah, throw that piece of fiction away! Yummy mummy trips with the babe in a buggy? Good luck finding a nice little cafe, boutique clothes shop or basically anywhere that can fit a double buggy! Worried about childcare costs? Why not double the worry! Think the night feeds will be tough? Do it with two! Fantasise about taking your child to the park on your own? Good luck running in two different directions at the same time!

Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – changed in an instant. I’m very happy for IVF couples; it’s an amazing feat of medicine and technology. I imagine it’s a shock to have IVF and find that you’re expecting twins; after all, there was a time when you thought you’d never be able to have children, and that must have been devastating. But the one advantage those couples have is that they are able to make a conscious choice: yes, we will increase our chances by having two fertilised eggs re-planted, and therefore we are consciously aware of the increased likelihood of having twins. I guess you could argue that older moms make a similar – if possibly less conscious – choice, as more mature mothers are also more likely to conceive twins.

But I was 29 when I conceived (hardly old) and my twins were not a result of medical intervention. They are instead the result of my freakish ovaries deciding to release two eggs at the same time. Go figure.

I love my twins. My twins are my reason for existing as far as I’m concerned and I feel utterly blessed to have them.

But that moment. That scan. I have tried multiple times to express how I felt but language fails me. Words such as: shock, joy, nausea, devastation, confusion, denial, excitement, worry, fear, anxiety, happiness, love and hate all feature there somehow but none of them are quite right. Here was something totally life-changing, over which I had no control. I was expecting twins, and that was that.

The pregnancy, labour and life since have been very different to how I imagined. Credit where credit’s due; I’m sure that’s the case for most – if not all – moms. But for a control freak like me, accepting the changes has been a constant challenge, and say what you like but having twins can sometimes mean more challenges than having one child. I am in complete awe of people who have triplets, quads or more!!

Being a twin mama has taught me a level of patience I never knew I had in me. It has also taught me to know when it’s time to relinquish control. Every new stage has challenged my preconceptions but it has also brought the most amazing memories for me to cherish. I am sure that in the months and years to come, these two crazy gals will continue to throw curve balls at me; sometimes I’ll catch them, sometimes I’ll dodge them, and sometimes they’ll smack me in the face. But I guess that’s all part of letting go.

10 milestones the baby books don’t tell you about

I don’t want to wish my little girls’ lives away, and heaven knows I regularly cry at the mere fact they’re not ickle babies anymore, but there are some parenting milestones that are totally awesome, and probably can’t be understood by people who don’t have kids. Here are 10 seemingly stupid milestones that genuinely made life a little better for me:

  1. Sleeping through the night. For some, this comes much later (major sympathies); for others, babies sleep through from Day 1 (I’d keep that to yourself if I were you). I managed to get my girls to sleep through 6/7 hours by six months by letting them cry it out a bit. It was very deliberate as I was going back to work and don’t function well on broken sleep. I found the night feeds much more difficult than I ever anticipated and I do NOT miss them.
  2. No more night feeds! I was unprepared for how long it takes a newborn to drink all of 3 ounces of milk (I formula fed); we’re talking half an hour per baby so for me, that meant half an hour with T1 and then another half an hour with T2. Each feed also meant a nappy change and ear-piercing screaming (from the babies, though I easily could have joined in) and they required feeding every 3 hours. So if T1 woke at 2am, I was feeding/changing her until around 2:30am and then T2 was finished around 3am. I would then take around 20 minutes to get back to sleep (regardless of how exhausted I felt) but then T1 would wake me up again at 5am. It felt like it would never end and I looked like the walking dead for much of that time.
  3. Moving to the next size nappy. I have no idea why this always excited me (probably because I’m a total saddo) but it was something to do with a break in the monotony and intrigue regarding which cute animal design would be on THIS one?!
  4. Moving to the next size of clothing; see above but with the added oooh-I’ve-got-such-cute-little-outfits-in-this-size! factor.
  5. Being able to give them their bottles without holding the bottles for them. As a mom of twins, this opened up a world of tandem-feeding that I had hitherto found impossible (those photos of twin moms being all Superwoman about it just annoy me). I had found several ingenious methods of propping the babies and their bottles against various items and furniture in the house but it was always a bit precarious so I could never actually get anything else done as I still needed to stay with them.
  6. The age where they started to pay attention to [insert generic children’s TV channel here]. I’m not saying my TV is a substitute parent but if it weren’t for TV, pretty much none of the housework would get done. (Remember, as a twin mama, I can’t simply vacuum with a child in my arms… Well, I can, but then the other child is watching the TV)
  7. The 12-month milestone: moving from formula milk to regular milk from the fridge. No more scooping, boiling, measuring and cooling! No more forgetting to make in advance and having to do all of that while two starving babies scream at the top of their lungs at 2am! Now it’s pour, nuke, shake and go – bish, bash, bosh. Seriously liberating.
  8. Finger food. We’re well out of 3-hourly milk bottles and beyond the all-consuming weaning phase: now is the time when you no longer need to take pre-prepared mushed up food everywhere you go because the chances are, you’ll be able to pick up something they can feed themselves, even if it isn’t organic and homemade with love (puke).
  9. When they figure out how to climb down from the sofa SAFELY (as opposed to simply continuing to walk off the edge as though they believe they can levitate). Gone are the days of fear! Now I can actually leave the room for a moment! (This euphoria lasts about as long as it takes a toddler to work out how to climb beyond the sofa onto the window ledge)
  10. The age where they start to get into cool toys. My definition of cool is about as uncool as you can get but I got so bored by rattles and the like, and loved it when the twins started getting into more interactive and imaginative play. I feel like I can get more involved in their playing now, as I can remember liking these kinds of toys when I was little. Kids’ toys are great!

So there you have it. My list of small but very important and life-changing parenting moments. Would you add any more?

A Bit Of Everything

Shush! Mama’s watching The Lion King!

I have zero memories of my mom – an adult looking after me – sitting down and watching something she liked when she was a kid. Or listening to something from her childhood. Or reminiscing about her childhood toys. So is it weird that I do those things – in front of my children – and intend to continue doing so as they grow up??

Today I found myself listening to Now That’s What I Call Disney on Spotify whilst doing the ironing, and the twins were in the other room. I ignored them and they ignored me. Don’t worry; this isn’t a post about neglect (the Hubs was watching the girls) but it is about the fact that I still love the things that remind me of my childhood and I’m pretty sure I’ll still be openly loving those things when I’m a grandma!

I’m in my 30s and one of my all-time favourite films is The Lion King.

Of course, I tell myself that we can all sit and watch Disney films together when the girls are old enough but the truth is I’d watch them regardless. The twins may not even LIKE Disney films! (Who am I kidding? It’s DISNEY, and therefore inherently awesome – even though we all know about the questionable political beginnings)

I guess we all have a little Peter Pan in us, because growing up sucks!

Kids sometimes suck (news flash)

I remember reading that all toddlers go through a clingy phase where they hate to see you leave. I also remember dismissing it as nonsense that would never apply to my twins because:

a) They’ve always been confident around my friends, family and often even strangers; and

b) They’ve always been fiercely independent and not over-cuddly (to my dismay – cuddle me! CUDDLE ME BUBS, DAMMIT!)

Aren’t we funny, we parents, when we convince ourselves we know best?! Yup, here it is: the clingy phase. And you know what? There are times when it’s very irritating. Here are 5 examples of when my two lil’ octopuses are seriously annoying:

  1. When I need to go to the bathroom
  2. When I drop them off with the grandparents and they cry like I’ve given them up for adoption
  3. When they are inconsolable because I have to put them down else my back will break
  4. When they bury their faces into my neck instead of performing the awesome trick they did a hundred times earlier that day (I’m telling you, she said, “Mama!” She DID!)
  5. When they both want my undivided attention at the same time (literally impossible) and therefore start fighting with each other

Now, I know how annoying it can be when parents moan about their kids on social media. But if it irritates you, then I have news for you: we do it to vent (because of the hard times) and we do it for comic effect (because we want to do our small bit to brighten someone’s day… And because we want the attention #jokingnotjoking). We DON’T do it because we hate being parents, or because we’re ungrateful for the miracle that is having children. I LOVE being a mommy. It is the single best decision I ever made (albeit the whole twins thing came as a shock!). But there are times when small irritations build up into one big need to vent!

In the interests of balance, however, here are 5 examples of how clingy twins are totally awesome:

  1. I can have cuddles on demand (x2)
  2. I feel very, very loved
  3. I can feel like the most important person in the room
  4. When they’re tired, I can rock them to sleep (which is something I haven’t been able to do since they were teeny-tiny)
  5. It’s a great excuse to avoid housework!

Every stage of parenting has its challenges and its highlights. I believe that the highlights ALWAYS outweigh the challenges and that it’s all worth it. If I achieve nothing more in this life than having raised those two amazing girls, then I’ll have achieved all I ever need to. God, I love ’em!