Making it Official

In my last post, I talked about how we finally landed on names for our daughters. It was not straightforward. However the worst was yet to come…

I then had to register those names.

So, look. When you have a baby – let alone two – life changes. Priorities switch, routines are up-ended and nothing is the same as it used to be. When we brought our girls home, we assumed everything would be a nightmare. Stressful, tiring, always playing catch up. In actual fact, things were a lot smoother than we could have imagined.

Sure, we were tired. Eyes-burning-in-their-very-sockets tired. But despite having two little, breathing things in our possession, it somehow galvanised us into being a pretty organised pair, which itself was unusual.

The set routine helped. We’d get up, change the babies, feed the babies, rock the babies, lay the babies down to sleep, clean everything up, nap ourselves and repeat. This, every three hours, day-in, day-out. We were pros. We’d wash the bottles constantly, sterilise them and tidy up dirty nappies, all while finding the time to cook meals for ourselves and keep the house at a relatively respectable level of cleanliness for the onslaught of unwelcome guests.

So, the day of the birth registering came and, I won’t lie, I was feeling pretty smug. Everything was going well, it was to be the first official time I’d left Lucy alone with the girls, but I knew she could cope. Not only did I promise to pop out, stamp an official ™ on the girls’ names and get back again, but I upped the ante by promising to bring in McDonald’s. Our first since the girls were born. Well, my auntie tried to sneak us one while we were still in hospital, but by the time the nurses had left us in peace, they were stone cold. Few things break my heart like a Big Mac with early on-set rigor mortis.

Anyway, back to the names.

So, Cocky Carl that I was, I set of. I still remember the feeling of contentment I had, driving along that day, Mike and Mechanics blaring out of the MP3. All was well with the world, I had an amazing wife and two incredible daughters, and here I was doing the fatherly thing and making it official, all while stockpiling Quarter Pounders with Cheese.

I was, admittedly, a little apprehensive about visiting the Registry Office. I’d only had one experience there before and it was not an enjoyable one.

It should have been. Lucy, my then wife-to-be, and I were going to register for our marriage. Feeling exciting and giddy, we burst into the office full of life. What followed was the slow, steady sapping of that joy from the very marrow of our bones. We knew we would be interrogated about our families, our history and our personal arrangement, what we didn’t expect was the staff to have been trained in the Guantanamo approach to Customer Service. We tried our best to joke away the overtly formal nature of the interviews, firing off zingers about how we couldn’t remember what our father-in-laws-to-be did for a living, or how to spell our mothers’ maiden names, but they were having none of it. We left that day, closer to becoming husband and wife, but also deeply ashamed of deriving pleasure from it.

So, as I entered the Registry Office for a second time I was a little unsure. I knew what they could be like, and their reassuring manner had already come across in email, when I was sternly warned not to be late for the appointment, as I would lose my slot, and potentially any chance to register the births. Nevertheless, I entered the office with my held my head high. This time, I was invincible. I was riding Cloud 9, so their stern looks and muted responses would bounce of me like peas on a trampoline.

Then I realised… I’d forgotten my wallet.

In all my arrogance at how well we had been doing, I’d left the house not only without a wallet but also very little phone battery. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so organised. I felt deeply unprepared. What’s more, the appointments were so sacred, it’s not like I could just pop off, pick up the wallet and pop back again. No, I was in this for the long haul.

First, I had to figure out if you had to pay to register a birth.

Well, think about it. It’s not like it’s an optional thing. You can’t get away with not registering a child. It’s basically human admin. So why would you have to pay for it? Paying just for the privilege of having a child – it’s daylight robbery. And I’ve got two of the bastards. Births, deaths and marriages: I tell you; registrars are running the most lucrative shakedown of the human race. They might as well tax blinking, breathing and shitting.

Thankfully, there was a couple in front of me. They looked pretty happy, no doubt at the start of their journey with these joy-suckers. This mini-queue gave me time to quickly Google ‘do you have to pay to register a birth’. Turns out, you do. And what’s more, there’s no 2-4-1 offer. It was then that I remembered how sacred these appointments were. I knew I couldn’t just head home, get my wallet and return. Suddenly, I realised I was going to have to barter the existence of my daughters with the receptionist. I panic-texted Lucy and asked for my card number and sort code. If I was going down, I was going down trying…

I reached the front of the queue. No reply from Lucy – the one time two babies felt more of a hindrance than a benefit. I tried to explain everything. It fell out a garbled mess. I’m pretty sure she thought I was trying to buy a child off of her. I steadied myself and explained the situation. “But…” I said, “I have a plan. If I can get my card details, can you just input them on your system, like you would if I was paying over the phone?” The poor woman looked concerned. She grasped the handset in case I tried to steal it, and called over her superior. Between them, they looked me up and down, and told me we’d figure something out.

I sat in the waiting area, my mind stewing over my predicament. Then I realised no card also meant no McDonald’s. And for that one brief moment, that seemed to be the bigger issue. Then, a text popped up. It was Lucy with my long card number. Suddenly inspired, I remembered about the contactless payment option on my phone. I’d been reluctant to download the feature previously, as it seemed too intrusive and too open to being manipulated by hackers. Now, desperate and unable to secure the existence of his daughter or buy Chicken McNuggets, I hit ‘download’ and input my details faster than Usain Bolt at a poorly lit cash machine in a terrible neighbourhood.

I was also rushing, because I’d noticed my phone battery was now flashing 11%. Still enough, I thought. But as each step of the app progressed, more updates were being downloaded, more information churned through. 9%. 8%. I looked up at the staff. They were huddled together, whispering and alternating glances in my direction. 6%. The other people waiting (registrees?) began to back away from my clump of chairs. 5%. I was still waiting on my CVV number. Then they popped up – 633*! Oh, sweet, reliable Lucy.

I went to enter the digits and I heard my name being called. It was time for the appointment.

I was ushered into a stale little room. The very same one I’d had my marriage appointment in. A stern older woman sat opposite me. I forced some small talk, but her pleasure force field was up. I tried to suggest my clever payment plan of reciting my card numbers without showing her my card, and she suggested that this would constitute fraud. See what I mean? What a joyless bunch.

Then, will all the charm and grace of an S.S Officer, she proceeded to quiz me on my daughters names. I always thought these milestones would be full of real gravitas, but they rarely ever feel that way. I guess it’s because one person’s life-changing moment is another’s nine-hour shift. And so, these names we’d lovingly created, infused with personality and warmth, that we were incredibly proud of, we reduced to answers in a not particularly fun quiz. The woman barked relatively easy questions at me and yet I couldn’t help but panic about every one. The weight of all expectation was now on me remembering how to spell a middle name.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of registering a birth, I assume it works on the same principle as getting a tattoo. All that planning and deciding and saving up, now comes down to you getting basic spellings right for fear of living with the mistakes forever. While a tattoo can be easily hidden with long sleeves or amputation, once a name is down, it’s stuck forever. And any mistakes will look up and taunt you from that name badge, bank statement or passport.

The registrar drafted up the first certificate and laid it out in front of me (no fanfare) and asked me to check it over for incorrect details or spelling mistakes. I trawled through it, simultaneously scrutinising every detail and yet taking none of it in. I must have stared at that sheet for a solid five minutes, but it felt like hours. Everything was perfect, not a single mistake. I sat back, breathed a sigh of relief and was just about to signal my approval when I saw it. Right there, in the middle of the certificate. I’d said the wrong middle name. Somehow, in all my panic, I’d swapped my daughters proposed middle names. Such is the fear that registrars bring out in me, I genuinely considered letting it slide. So what if we have to live with it being wrong, at least she won’t shoot me a look so withering that my reproductive organs would decide to pack up through fear of having to endure this experience ever again.

In the end, sanity prevailed and I told her. Not happy. She made the changes and all was OK. Then for child number two. Sorted even quicker and not a mistake in sight. Then it came down to the payment. While she was still pretty firm on the whole ‘fraud’ thing, she agreed to let me phone Lucy and get her to pay over the phone. So she rang Lucy. She didn’t answer. That’s the thing about my wife, if a number calls and she doesn’t recognise it, she won’t bother answering. It could be a doctor calling because I’ve had an accident, or the National Lottery telling us that ticket we never bought finally came in, but no. If it doesn’t come up ‘Mum’ or ‘Rob’, it’s a no from her.

I’d quickly tried to text Lucy to explain what was about to happen, but it was too late. The registrar had put the phone down and was burning the word ‘twat’ into my head with her eyes. I offered to call, in case it made a difference, so I did. Lucy didn’t answer. So much for ‘Rob’. I tried again and she picked up, a little hurried because the girls had been getting restless. I tried to relax her but it’s difficult when you’re sharing a back office with a black hole.

Finally, I put Lucy on speakerphone and between the three of us we managed to pay the full £8.

So that was that. What should have been a joyous and ceremonial moment was reduced to nothing more that terrifying admin. Now, when I look at my daughters, I don’t see their names, or the care and thought that went into each, I see a constant reminder of the dangers of forgetting your wallet and not charging your phone. I don’t feel love; I feel a blood-curdling fear of disorganisation. I don’t feel pride; I feel that somewhere, at any given moment, is a registrar with nothing but contempt for me.

Yet, throughout all the worry and panic, I did it. I registered the births. And now, I can officially welcome Willow May and Ruby Ann into the world.

As for my attempt to use contactless pay at McDonald’s with 2% battery, well, that’s a whole other story…

 

*These numbers have been changed to protect my bank balance.

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What’s in a Names?

Let’s talk names. Specifically my daughters’ names. So far I haven’t mentioned them yet which is either a glaring oversight on my part or six months in, we’re still unable to make a decision.

Well, the honest truth is, I wasn’t sure whether to share their names or not. It seems somehow too personal, something I’m reluctant to divulge willy nilly. And I’ve written a blog detailing every aspect of my wife’s experience of labour, so I’m not scared of over-sharing.

This blog has always been about sharing my parenting experiences, and yet I find myself wanting to hold back on this one revelation.

I can, however, tell you all about the naming process.

Presumably like the bloke who writes Game of Thrones, we spent a lot of time thinking about names. And while this is what most people probably do when expecting, with twins it’s slightly more complex. Lucy and I decided we weren’t going to discover the sex of the twins until birth. Some people think it’s one last lovely surprise on this antenatal journey, but from a naming point of view, it’s a logistical nightmare. At any one time, we were trying to pin down six potential names.

We had to narrow down two girls’ names, two boys’ names and an additional set in case we got one of each (no one wants to discover their name was a sloppy second). Add middle names to that and you’re already hitting double figures. It was, to put it bluntly, ridiculous.

The problem with naming is it relies on real conviction. Something my wife and I, struggle with on a daily basis. Picking a takeaway takes UN-sized discussions, often bringing in third parties to mediate our Just East sessions, so how we were ever going to land on not just two names, but four alternates, plus the additional bumph?

The biggest issue was taking it seriously. As I say, we’re not the best at making concrete decisions – so why we chose to use this discussion as a springboard for our sillier ideas is beyond me. Didn’t we realise the stakes were so high? At one point, we’d joking settled on Aurora Nora and Shauna Lorna and became increasingly convinced we’d probably end up going with them. We didn’t.

However, even if you’re taking it seriously, naming is a minefield. You’ve got to consider nicknames, shortening, school yard taunts – before you know it, you’re working shopping offensive puns on a variety of popular children’s names. One discussion saw us weighing up the name ‘Isabella’ – or ‘Izzy’ – but deciding against it in case, somewhere down the line, a creatively warped child decided to riff on the name ‘Jizzy’. There’s no way you can explain that one to an eight year old.

In the end, we pulled together a list of potentials. Ones we felt strongly about, ones we had heard and liked, ones we sort of liked and ones we put on the list just to pad things out. But as the pregnancy drew to a close we’d keep reminding ourselves that we were no nearer to making a decision.

And then the girls arrived.

In all the hustle and bustle of pushing two tots betwixt two legs, we didn’t really think about the fact we were bringing two nameless sprogs into the world. But once they were here, the realisation hit. Like that feeling you get leading up to the Christmas party when you know you’re going to have to make a decision on the set menu. Sure Parma ham and melon seems like a good starter now, but what about in a month’s time? What if it becomes outdated and archaic? What if you go off it? What if a serial molester rises to prominence and is also called ‘Parma Ham and Melon’? The pressure was on.

In a moment of clarity, we decided the sensible thing to do would be to leave it. Give it a few days, let things settle down, possibly draw up some potential symbols in case we wanted to take the Prince approach, and then have another stab at it.

As it was, we got bored very quickly. If there’s one thing more overwhelming than our inability to make decisions, it’s our lack of patience. By lunchtime the discussion had come round again and, in a freak moment of decisiveness, we named our daughters there and then. First and second names.

I won’t lie, I spent longer coming up with the title for this post, than we did for the names that would define our daughters from here on in. But still, conviction is conviction.

It was refreshing to say the least. Not only had we settled a debate that had been raging since the Clear Blue first flashed its navy strips at us, but we were both happy with the choices we’d made, and in fact, had both contributed a name to the mix. I imagine it was similar to those moments you read about in The Beatles folklore. Everything comes together in a moment of beautiful aural clarity, before everyone goes off and starts complaining to a Japanese multimedia artist with a penchant for shit stirring.

We couldn’t have been happier. Not only had we now got two tiny daughters to love, but we had proved everyone wrong – including ourselves – by picking names we immediately fell for. We were wandering round in a cloud of contentment.

It was at that point that the Mother-in-Law showed up.

Now, a word about Lucy’s mum. She’s brilliant. I love her to bits. But if there’s one thing she loves to do, it’s plant the seed of doubt. Are you sure you don’t want a Chinese? Oh, a boob tube, that’s different. I’ve never seen a banister painted mauve before…

The in-Laws arrived and got themselves settled. Ever the doting son-in-law (I’m quite the catch), I took myself off to get coffees for everyone. I couldn’t have been gone longer than four minutes – five at a push because Costa doesn’t add sugar for you –when I returned our hard work was in disarray. And all thanks to two little words:

The initials.

While we’d made the decision quickly, we felt we’d exhausted every possible pitfall of these names, however, we’d forgotten this one simple thing: what the initials spelt out. The Mother-in-Law loves that sort of shit. Thankfully, one daughter was fine – W.M.G – that doesn’t really stand for anything. ‘Weapons of Mass Gestrution’ at a push but it’s unlikely to pop up in conversation. However, our other daughter went by the slightly unfortunate R.A.G.

It could have been worse. It wasn’t exactly R.A.T.

The seed had been planted and Lucy was unsure. What followed was a long and arduous debate over whether we could legitimately give our daughter initials that conjured up images of a damp cloth. We couldn’t even switch the first names because then we’d have W.A.G and that was arguably worse. I fought my hardest: people don’t use initials, no one’s going to even think about it, it could stand for Raise and Give – the students would lap it up. But it was no good. We debated into the night, discussing it with every family member that showed up.

Eventually by the second day, discussions had broken down and we’d reached stalemate. Neither of us had the energy to go back to the drawing board and we’d exhausted all potential alternatives. Finally, we realised that by telling every member of the family about the whole R.A.G affair, we’d already drawn unnecessary attention to what was otherwise a rather inane problem.

And so, in a slightly less decisive manner and with minimal fanfare, we agreed to stick with the names we’d originally chosen, primarily because it gave us a birth anecdote that didn’t rely on drawing attention to my wife’s baby-making bits.

If this whole debacle proves anything, it’s that ultimately the best thing you can do as a parent is trust your gut instinct. We hope that we continue to parent this way. It won’t always be the best decision or the right decision, but as long as we feel confident about it and sure of our thinking, then we’re doing the best by our girls. And that’s one thing I’m sure of.

An Open Letter to a Twin Dad (it’s George Clooney)

It’s Father’s Day, and like any father worth his salt, I’m going to use this opportunity to impart some of my knowledge, whether anyone has asked for it or not.

We’ve reached the five month mark of my daughters’ lives and I feel I’ve amassed enough of an understanding of parenting to be able to help encourage fledgling twin dads. And so, this Father’s Day, I’m writing an open letter to one twin dad in particular.

Mr Clooney. George.

How are you?

I hope this blog post finds you well.

First off, congratulations! However common a birth is, it’s always worth celebrating – especially when there are two! Secondly – and I think I speak for most of the world here – many of us were wondering if you still had it in you. I mean, you are knocking on a bit. You were rocking the salt and pepper look back in One Fine Day and those Nespresso adverts are fooling no one.

So from me, and new dads everywhere, well done. We’re glad the old Cloonsitcals still had some juice left in them. Unless of course, you had them frozen. But this is a nice day; no one wants to think about your tiny swimmers crammed into a Tupperware box, gently chilling in the ice lolly drawer of a Beko fridge-freezer.

So, how are you getting on?

No doubt it will all feel different – where once your life consisted of award shows and Oprah appearances, now it will be spent picking ungodly amounts of fluff from in between your children’s fingers and timing your days around those three-hour feeds and The Chase omnibus on Challenge TV. I feel for you.

It’ll take a little while to settle back into ‘normal’ life. That’s if you can remember what life was like before the arrival of your mini Clooney babies (Moonies?). For me, it’s a distant memory, like Jeremy Clarkson’s failed chat show and Secret chocolate bars – they were heaven, even if they did look like cream-filled turds.

Being professionals, the pressures of work must still hang over you: Amal; reading over notes from her latest international human rights dispute while she fills the baby bath, you; highlighting your lines in the script for Ocean’s Fourteen: Yes, Another Casino! as you try again to get your Tommee Tippee Perfect Prep Machine up and running.

It might all feel a little overwhelming but hang in there. You’ve got this.

That said, it might be helpful for me to give you a little heads up on what to expect when raising twins.

For a start, don’t try to pigeon-hole your babies. You might think you’ve got a handle of which one does what – you’ll start to assign them personalities and quirks. But they have other ideas. As soon as you think you’ve nailed it, they’ll switch. I swear to God ours listen in to our conversations. As soon as we say ‘Oh yes, X is sleeping through no problem.’ BANG! That’s when they dig their heels in. She’ll never sleep again. Meanwhile Fussy McLightSleeper will suddenly discover a passion for remaining unconscious for large periods of the day.

Invest in a white noise machine. Trust me. It’s a godsend. If you don’t know what I’m banging on about, then it’s basically a radio that only plays signal static. Sure, you’ll wake up during the night thinking your ear buds are receiving a faulty transmission, and when the time comes to switch it off, you’ll feel like you’ve gone deaf, but it’s worth it. Just the faintest hiss of the stuff and our babies nod off. We switched on the extractor fan the other day and before you can say ‘sweet dreams’ we had two comatose children.

Feeding. Now this one’s important. It’s the one piece of advice we got from a twin mum before the girls were born and I’m glad we listened. Always feed them together. It might sound simple, but it’s easy to see the temptation not to, especially when one is gasping for a drink but the other is spark out. Either way, get it down them. Not only will you find it easier to build a routine around it, but it gives you more valuable Netflix bingeing time. I’m guessing you’re a Ru Paul’s Drag Race nut, so you’ll appreciate this tip.

That’s pretty much all I’ve learnt to be honest with you. But I still have one major warning. Someone you should always be prepared for; the bane of any twin parents’ lives.

Other people.

Expect to be stopped in the street. A lot. I know this will be a new experience for you, George, but it really does take some getting used to. For some reason, having two babies makes you far more likely to be on the end of a deluge of other peoples’ opinions. It’s basically Twitter but in the middle of Morrisons.

And if being stopped isn’t enough, the things people say never change. You’re constantly subjected to the same sorry line up of questions. They always open with – and this is a doozy – ‘are they twins?’ I know, George. It defies logic. But just smile and nod. No one needs to hear any of these smart-arsed answers:

  • No, it was 2 for 1 down the orphanage.
  • Actually, they’re quadruplets but we’re favouring these two this week.
  • Wait, you mean there’re two of them in there?!
  • They’re like Russian dolls, you open them up and there are more of the buggers inside

The twin question is usually followed by ‘are they identical’? Well, considering this one’s got hair and this one’s as bald as Greg Whatshisface off Masterchef, I’d plump for no.

‘Are they boys/girls’. I like to deal with this one swiftly. ‘Actually, we prefer not to project gender roles on to them at this early stage. We’re raising this one as good, and this one as evil – eventually they’ll face off in a battle for the universe.’

Even once you’ve stated a sex, some will refuse to hear it. ‘Aw, he’s lovely’ they’ll say. ‘She is, isn’t she’ you’ll reply – with extra emphasis on the gender pronouns. ‘Oh, I could eat him up’, you’ll get back. Now, ignoring the admission of cannibalism, if this is their response, you’ve already lost the battle. There’s no point chasing them down the toiletries aisle shouting ‘SHE. IT’S A SHE!’ because suddenly you’re the nuisance.

One question I’ve never got my head around is ‘what did they weigh?’ I can’t really see the relevance. Don’t get me wrong, it serves to highlight just how miraculous the act of giving birth is, but it’s not like anyone wants to linger on the specifics. ‘They were 5 pound each, Barbara. Like two honeydew melons with cradle cap. Imagine trying to push that through your periwinkle!’

And without a shadow of a doubt, at some point, they’ll ask about names. George, let me warn you: don’t be drawn into it. Nothing will destroy that early parental bliss and bring you screaming back down to earth like a stranger judging the names you’ll lovingly picked, while standing in the queue at the fish counter. ‘I’ll have a cod portion for two and a feeling of inadequacy, please’.

So that just about covers it. Of course people are resilient, they’ll find a way to up the ante and ask even more inane questions. Just make sure you’re ready with the answers, or failing that, a rolled up copy of The People’s Friend to bat them away.

So if you want more advice on rearing twins, then check back here regularly for more updates. That’s if you can drag yourself away from Bradley Pitt long enough to read it.

But just remember George; embrace every single second of fatherhood. In my short time playing at being a dad, I’ve come to realise that there is nothing more fulfilling, more incredible, than looking into the eyes of the two little things you’ve helped to create, and knowing it’s your responsibility to protect, nurture and guide them towards being the best people they can be.

You’ve built a career on powerful charismatic performances but there is no better role in this world, than ‘dad’.

Happy Father’s Day, Mr Clooney.

 

NB: If you’re Jay Z and you’re reading this, thinking ‘Where’s my blog post?’ I can only apologise. While I did have the perfect title (‘99 Problems… to do with raising twins’), you and Beyonce seem to have this parenting thing figured out.

George thought Batman & Robin was a good career move. He needs all the help he can get.

This is Hope.

My initial plan for this blog was to update the progress of my family chronologically. Of course, actual parenting has meant that’s about as easy to do as nailing a blancmange to the wall. Nevertheless, that’s still my plan.

Having said that, I wanted to quickly write a post about the upcoming UK election.

As I write this, it’s the night before the big vote and I’m feeling…odd to say the least.

As much as I have my opinions – anyone who’s seen my Facebook and Twitter feeds will know I don’t so much lean left or right, as lunge towards one aggressively – this is more a general post about, amongst other things, hope.

I like to consider myself a positive person. Not so much a glass half-full type, more a ‘free glass? Get in!’ sort. Honestly, you should see me at Easter – whoever thought the perfect accompaniment to a chocolate egg was a complimentary ceramic mug is obviously working on a higher plain of intelligence.

I try not to let negativity get me down. Increasingly with politics, I try to think and vote based on what I consider to be decent values. I vote, not just for me, but for people I know and love, and those who need it most. But this election everything suddenly seems different.

Now, it could be following the previous election, the EU Referendum and the rise of that Twitter-happy slab of fake tan in the White House; but suddenly politics seems even more divisive and incendiary than ever. And this election feels like the culmination of everything that’s come before. But not in a series finale way. Although, the world does feel like it’s starting to ape Game of Thrones (except the dragon stuff).

But mainly, the difference comes because this time the need for a positive outcome is even more important. Because now I have more people relying on me to vote the right way. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not watching the leaders’ debates and throwing me knowing looks from their playmat, but in the long term they’re the ones that will benefit – or suffer – the most.

I feel like I am voting the right way – based on the standards and morals I hold dear – but, ultimately, am I right? And will any of this make a difference? I think I know the answers already. But I don’t think it will make it any easier to accept the eventual outcome.

Global and national politics feels bleaker with every day, and with that, it seems our communities are becoming even more fractured. While it might not be the party I’d choose that gets in, it would be nice to feel that, whoever ends up victorious would still bring hope through the door of Number 10.

For me, this election isn’t about whether ‘my team’ wins or loses; it’s about waking up on Friday and feeling safe, about building a positive future for my girls, my family, for everyone. It’s all about hope.

I hope that, come Friday, whoever wins brings with them a feeling of optimism. I hope that, whatever the outcome, people don’t feel the need to gloat or lash out, instead pull together to make the best of the situation and rebuild those connections we’ve lost over the last few months.

I hope that, come Friday, I still feel hopeful. As hopeful as I did when I first found out Lucy was pregnant. As hopeful as I did when I saw the heart monitors firing away for the first time. As hopeful as I was that first morning in hospital, looking at my girls asleep in their crib. Yes, I was terrified, yes I didn’t know what the future held, but beyond the nerves, beyond the fear, beyond the stench of those black, tar-like poos, I felt hopeful, as though the world still had a lot of positivity and optimism left to give.

And I hope it still does.

That said, as I type this, Lucy is watching Love Island. And it currently feels like all hope is gone.

Our First Week, in Hospital

Hospitals. They’re a funny old place. Like a Premier Inn with the overwhelming stench of decay about it. So, a Travel Lodge then.

Life, death and everything in between, all housed in one building. Or two and an annexe. The only positives are the flickers of human interaction that occur each day. And if you’re lucky, a gift shop.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life, in that I’ve never had to stay over in hospital for any period of time. That was, until our girls arrived. After the birth, Lucy and the girls spent a week living at hospital. And, as a result, so did I.

Now you may think that’s a figure of speech. What I really did was pay extortionate amounts in parking feeds, arrived early each morning and leaving when the nurses call time. But no. I lived in hospital for an entire week, on a zed bed, with nothing but the same stale chicken, stuffing and bacon sandwiches for sustenance. It was very much your Bear Grylls type of existence, if Bear had survived entirely on Boots meal deals. I guess, at any point, I could have gone home, got a shower, had a sleep, and raided the fridge for anything that didn’t come with a side order of McCoy’s. But I didn’t. Because I wanted to be with my wife and two brand new baby daughters. It was my way or forging that unbreakable bond in those tentative first days.

To everyone else on the ward, I was that weird guy who kept wandering about while they shuffled from bed to toilet and back again. In my head, I think I’d seen it as some sort of nature documentary where I’d be eventually accepted into the pack by these alpha mums. In reality, it was more like The Walking Dead in surgical stockings. Not that I was lording it over the other mums, you understand. You can’t really claim superiority when you’re the only one there who hasn’t just forced a human tot through your netherbits.

But stay I did and I’m glad. I’m more than glad, I’m thankful. Thankful that I got the opportunity to stay when other dads don’t have that privilege, thankful I enjoyed so much time with Lucy and the girls, thankful that the hospital staff didn’t kick me out when I kept pestering them for change for the vending machine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no fool. I realise I was allowed to stay because we’d had twins, not because the midwives just liked having me round. But either way, I was fine with that.

After the birth – or ‘The Double Tot Drop’ as we affectionately termed it – we were ushered into a side room where we had to wrestle our newborn daughters off the selfie-taking vultures that were our parents. They descended on the girls like paparazzi, snapping constantly. Then they’d hold each of the girls up for an individual photo, in the way you might after catching a big fish.

Finally, we were taken down to the ward where we were given our own room. It sounds fancy, but you still couldn’t poo in peace.

After spending the night surrounded by all manner of people prodding and poking, it was suddenly just us. Our family. Lucy, me and two little woolly-hatted babies (if you can imagine two tiny Badly Drawn Boys then you’re not far off). Even though they were five weeks early, we were very lucky that the girls didn’t end up in special care. Something the midwives felt they needed to remind us on an almost hourly basis. I get it, but it’s hardly a confidence boost. A pilot wouldn’t end a flight by announcing ‘We made it, but count your lucky stars we didn’t plummet from the sky and smash into a mountain, exploding on impact’.

The week that followed was a gradual process of learning more about our daughters. If you’d filmed it (which no one did thankfully, Lucy and I were sporting a look I would call insomniac-chic) then you could probably edit together a lovely montage with The King and I’s ‘Getting to Know You’ over the top. But that would involve omitting far too many moments where Lucy and I were racked with fear. That whole first week is basically an exercise in seeing how long you can go without checking that your babies are still breathing.

The biggest issue of the week was feeding. From the first moment out of the operating theatre, the nurses were showing Lucy how to milk herself. It was a slow process and because the girls were so early, they weren’t really in the mood to do any of the work. As each day came, a new approach to feeding was introduced so that by the end of the week, we were feeding the girls a combination of milk and formula via breast, bottle, cup and syringe. At one point, there were so many contraptions used to pump, extract and inject milk, the room looked like a topless crack den.

One of our daughters wasn’t really taking much at all, and eventually it came to a head with one of the midwives. She’d have a few sips from a cup, spit most of it out and fall asleep again. Our daughter, not the midwife, that would be inappropriate behaviour for hospital staff.

We were doing all we could to encourage her, waking her up, bouncing her on our knee, stripping her down (not the best way to get anyone to consume more – if it was, I’d use it on myself at all-you-can-eat buffets) but she wouldn’t take much at all. This one midwife in particular seemed to think we should be trying harder, and would flounce into the room, take the baby off us and proceed to show us how it was done: waking her up, bouncing her on her knee, stripping her down. And again, she wouldn’t take much. I would definitely have gloated more if our daughter’s milk intake had not hung in the balance.

The fact our other daughter was feeding well was enough proof that we must be doing something right. Something this midwife did not like us pointing out. But you see, that’s the beauty of having twins. What works for one, doesn’t always work for the other. It can be frustrating, but at the same time it also gives you an inbuilt parenting barometer. A baby guinea pig, if you will.

Eventually, the doctor was called. He came in like a sullen teenager and tried to explain to us how best to get them feeding. You guessed it, waking, bouncing, stripping (not a bad name from a titty bar, actually). When we explained it wasn’t working, his answer was basically to suggest that it was our kid so if we didn’t want to feed it, that was on us. Something he obviously picked up at the Harold Shipman School of Bedside Manners.

As the week went on, and our daughter’s strength and confidence grew, she gradually started to take more. It was a definite relief. Not least because we no longer had a nurse standing over us shouting ‘strip her down’.

Now, I have to say, none of that puts the hospital staff in a particularly good light. But this doesn’t do justice to our time in hospital. While a lot of staff came and went over the course of the week, the majority of people we dealt with were friendly, reassuring and went above and beyond to help us. One midwife in particular, Nicola, was amazing. I genuinely don’t think we’d have got through that first week without her.

A couple of days in, our other daughter was diagnosed with jaundice. Not overtly serious but it needed treating. This meant that for two days, she was resigned to living under UV lights in an incubator. Like a little European sunbather in the corner of the room.

This was an incredibly difficult time. Ultimately she was fine, but when your first week is spent in a haze of paranoia and everything around seems like a hazard waiting to happen, this was the last thing we needed. For two days we had to watch her, squirming around inside this box, with nothing but a nappy and a face mask on. We could only take her out to feed her and then she was straight back in. Sure, I’d always wanted a pet I could keep in a terrarium but it just wasn’t the same.

The moment she was first placed in the incubator was one of the few times I’d nipped out to pick up some essentials. I was hoping to be back before it happened, but I wasn’t. I walked into the room, took one look at her tiny pink body and broke down.

There was a lot of crying that first week.

When I think of what it feels like to be a parent, one thing comes to mind. Above everything; all the excitement, the joy, the learning curves, I feel an overwhelming sense of heartbreak. From the moment your child is born they’re suddenly a lot less safe than they were before. And you know that no matter how much you worry, how much you obsess about it, you can’t be there to protect them all the time. It’s like receiving a glass ornament for Christmas. You can’t believe you own something so beautiful and amazing and rare, yet all you can think about is how you’re bound to drop it at any moment.

The biggest part of learning to be a parent is trying to suppress that fear. It’s taking time, and I doubt it’ll ever truly go away, but I’m learning to deal with it.

That first week in hospital was a whirlwind of worry, fear, love and happiness. And being allowed to be there 24/7 to be a part of that, was invaluable. That’s why I love our NHS. That’s why I love the people – all the people (even the douchey midwife) – who dedicate their lives to making these huge moments in our life, that little bit easier, that little bit more comfortable. I don’t for a second believe the NHS is perfect, but I believe it’s the perfect idea. And that’s why we should fight hard to protect it.

That first week in hospital gave me so much valuable time with my daughters, and with Lucy. Time I will always treasure. I was relieved when we were finally allowed to leave, but in some ways I didn’t want to go. There was something about being in that room, just us four, locked away from the rest of the world that made everything feel safer. But in the end, you just have to take a deep breath and step out into the world.

After all, it’s not a Premier Inn.

Here’s to the Mums! (Or: My Wife Gave Birth to Twin Daughters and All She had was Two Lousy Paracetamol)

It’s Mother’s Day. Another chance for those corporate fat cats at Hallmark and Clintons to wring us out of a few extra quid in the name of celebration. But then, we set aside a day to champion slivers of batter drizzled in lemon, so can we really be so cynical about a day that embraces the importance of motherhood?

At twenty quid a pop for a decent bunch of pansies, yes we can.

Nevertheless, today seems like a good day to talk about the time my wife gave birth to our daughters. Not every detail, you understand, although if you want a graphical retelling of the events, I’m pulling together a PowerPoint Presentation. Nothing says dilated cervix like Times New Roman whooshing in from the left.

Before we begin, let me make something very clear. My wife is weak. I don’t mean that in a sexist way, it’s just a fact.

If she stubs her toe, she’s out for the count. She routinely takes doorways too wide and slams into the rough end of a door handle. At any one time, her legs can be a Rorschach test of bruises and marks. And quite often, she has no recollection of how they got there. Like detectives in a crime drama, we retrace her steps from the previous days to deduce the perpetrator. On one occasion we were convinced that they were caused by nothing more than standing up too fast.

So it’s fair to say, we both approached the birth of our two children with some sense of trepidation.

(Of course, it hadn’t helped that days before our niece had drawn a picture of Lucy with the babies inside her, using liberal amounts of red felt tip. What should have been a lovely gesture, seemed more like a sombre warning of the horrors to come.)

It started on a Sunday night. We had just finished the final episode of Sherlock (a deadline we had previously agreed upon with the babies) and were heading to bed. We didn’t even bother washing up after tea, thinking we could tackle it in the morning. This is a decision that has haunted us ever since. You don’t know public shame until your brother-in-law cleans up the remains of your five day-old steak and chips.

But anyway: the birth. As we settled into bed, Lucy was aware of a, shall we say, bladderial shift. For a moment, we thought she’d sat on the hot water bottle, but no. Before long we’d spoken to the nurses at the hospital who suggested we come in ‘just to be sure’.

Calmly, coolly, we got dressed, collected our things, packed the emergency bags in case, and set off. As we drove along at a steady 30mph, I think we both believed this would be the foundation for a new anecdote. The time Lucy was admitted to hospital for wetting herself.

Turns out, the babies had other ideas.

Oddly, developments had already begun and Lucy was none the wiser. No contractions, no pains, nothing. This, we assured ourselves, wouldn’t last. We moved from the walk-in ward to the labour ward and made ourselves comfy. Lucy put on those socks that look like the skins you fill with sausage meat, and I proceeded to ask ‘are you alright’ on a minute-by-minute basis. There was no need. Lucy was fine. The babies were fine, throbbing away on monitors attached to her tummy, and the midwives were happy.

As the hours passed, the pain took it’s time arriving. Both Lucy and I were disappointed we weren’t counting contractions like they do in the movies. Instead we were making quietly apologetic jokes to hospital staff too busy to humour us. It was all very civilised.

Over all this, the threat of the epidural loomed. We knew we would have to make a decision soon, but hoped it would be taken out of our hands. We considered using a Magic 8 ball but that just seemed tacky.

Soon the contractions came, and like any good asthmatic, Lucy attempted to breathe through it. At this point, the sum total of the pain relief was two paracetamol. That’s it. Lucy was offered gas and air with the same level of concern that you might be asked if you’d like Parmesan or black pepper at a restaurant.

Then the pain really kicked in. And for the woman who can’t turn a corner in her own house without blindsiding herself, she was fine. More than fine, she was amazing.

Eventually we had to decide, re: the epidural. For reasons that now baffle me, Lucy decided to do without and try to go naturally. The looks we got back from hospital staff, must have been like the ones the inventor of the parachute got when he first test drove his latest invention. A balloon in a backpack is madness, and so it seems, is attempting to push two babies out your chuff with nothing more than a swig of water and a couple of Nurofen.

Finally, Lucy relented and agreed to gas an air, ‘to take the edge off’. Parents arrived and, like me, felt both crucial to the unfolding events and unbelievably useless all at once. The contractions got stronger and soon we were ready to push.

Still calm, Lucy went for another swig of the G ‘n’ A in preparation for the first push, only to find it confiscated by one of the nurses. Apparently, you’re not allowed to use it during the actual ‘birthing’ bit of giving birth. That wasn’t part of the deal.

It was at that point; we began to pine for the spinal syringe.

The pushing began. Lucy took it each one in her stride. Lucy. The woman who once prescribed herself bed rest because she’d had a twinge in her bum.

The pushing felt like it lasted a long time, but in reality went by very fast. Instead of concentrating on herself, Lucy was more worried she was making a mess of the bed sheets and was being too loud, apologising to the nurses between pushes. Suddenly the sound of a scream you could only hear in a film from the Saw franchise rang out in the labour ward, and Lucy was convinced she was having a pretty easy time of it.

Before long, the first twin arrived. Quickly scrubbed up, measured and chucked to the mother-in-law, the rest of us were on to twin number two. Not before we hit the shift change, and our entire team of midwives swapped with a second. One or two of them hung on to see it through. They’d spent all night getting acquainted with my wife’s nether regions so understandably they felt committed.

After a little discussion between consultants, it was decided that we would move to theatre ‘just to be sure’. Bearing in mind, the last ‘just to be sure’ we got, was from nurses convinced Lucy has pissed her pants. A niggling panic set in.

As we got to the theatre (no little binoculars or tubs of ice cream – rip off) a man with a little suitcase full of needles set up shop, slowing piecing together a, excuse my French, fuck off chunky bastard: less a needle, more a pneumatic drill. The midwives lifted Lucy from the bed to the table; the needle man ready to pounce. As soon as Lucy was down, the second waters broke and within minutes Twin two arrived. No needle, little fuss.

The second baby was given the postnatal make over while Lucy was patched up. All the while, I stood in shock, watching her talking to the nurses, a little uncomfortable, but largely fine, this, from the woman who practically fought back tears four weeks later when she accidentally sat on the arm of a chair instead of the seat.

This Mother’s Day marks Lucy’s first as a mum. And while I can think of better things to spend money on than ‘Supermum’ mugs and Daniel O’Donnell CDs, I can’t deny she deserves so much more than I can ever give her.

My wife is weak, sure. But she is also the strongest person I know. Neither of us takes for granted how “straight forward” the pregnancy and birth were, but it continues to amaze me that she took the pain, the discomfort, the worry, the uncertainly, the emotional impact and the changes to her body with a strength that I could never conjure up. My wife is incredible and I’ll spend forever trying to prove to her just how proud she makes me.

All I ever want for my daughters, is for them to be healthy and happy and safe. With you as their mum, they couldn’t have had a better start in life. And that, in itself, is worth celebrating.

Happy Mother’s Day, Lucy. We love you.

Change is here

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated the site. Sorry. If you’d told me when I first embarked on this voyage of documentation, that having twins would directly impact on my ability to update this blog, I’d probably have reconsidered the whole thing. The babies, I mean. Not the blog, that’s a keeper.

So, there we have it. In the intervening weeks (we do everything by week, now) my wife and I have become parents to twin daughters.

Yes, after all that, we had daughters. We never did find out what we’d be having. We’re the sort of couple that only buy wrapper-less tins from the Whoopsie! Aisle. We live for the thrill. Sure, sometimes you’re eating nothing but apricots in syrup for tea, but other nights – boom – stewed steak! Of course, by that point, it’s too late to go back and buy the rest of the items needed to make up a meat and potato pie.

Anyway, back to the babies. We’ve got babies. Two of them. Has it changed much? Well, the easiest way to describe it is this:

Before we’d had babies, the very idea that another human being might defecate themselves in our living room repulsed us. Now we welcome it. Now, two people routinely shit their pants in our presence and it’s practically cause for a national holiday.

Until you start setting your watch by the fluctuations of another human’s bum hole, you’ve really not embraced the beauty of parenting. So yeah, I’d say life has changed.

The thing that’s really startling is how quickly it felt natural, as if this is all we’d ever been doing. Sure, a lot of that is probably down to sleep deprivation, but it all feels reassuringly normal. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t using the arse-end of a butter knife to better distribute powdered milk at four in the morning. Any memories of life before the babies, has been drowned out by the relentless hum of white noise.

Did I mention that we steal sleep in hour-long intervals between those nighttime feeds? Or that occasionally things settle down enough for us to start tea (ravioli or fruit salad) only to abandon it half way through so we can finish winding them.

And oh the winding! At any one time the house is a symphony of parps and toots.

I can’t count the times Lucy and I have sat on the sofa, each with a child on our knee, furiously rubbing and patting. We must look like a Celtic folk group who’ve done away with instruments to embrace the aural beauty of infant spine slapping (Potential band name: Sgt Papa’s Boney Farts Club Band).

But if all of this sounds a little anti-climactic, then I can tell you it’s not. And there’s one loud, unavoidable reason. Love.

Before they arrived, I knew I would love these babies, partly because I was excited to meet them but also because it’s kind-of the done thing.

Nothing prepares you for the torrent of emotions that takes over.

Along with my wife, Lucy, these girls have become the three most important things in my life and nothing will ever take that title away from them. I think about them constantly and want nothing more than to spend time with them, to hold them, kiss them, sing to them, vocalise their inner thoughts using deep abrasive cockney accents – the list goes on.

They say one of the biggest issues of becoming a parent, is holding on to a sense of yourself. I’m still me. I still like and enjoy all the things I did before, only now, they don’t mean as much. They can’t mean as much. Because they don’t look so heartbreakingly beautiful when they sleep. They can’t be manipulated to look like they’re giving people the finger. They don’t shit themselves so aggressively that it looks like the onset of gangrene has spread across their mid third.

I am now a father to two incredible daughters and, whether I manage to keep up to this blog or not, they will always be my proudest achievement.

Never Knowingly Prepared

The motto of the Boy Scouts is ‘always be prepared’. I never joined the Scouts, didn’t like ‘em. Smug bunch of bastards.

Prepared my foot! They don’t give out badges for maxing your credit card or bargain buying Moses baskets from B&M, do they? I mean, you can rub twigs together and lay as many ground sheets as you like but it doesn’t prepare you for bringing up children, does it? That said, if you’re having a home birth, being a dab hand with a sheet or tarpaulin is probably a bonus.

Preparation is overrated. At least that’s what we’re telling ourselves.

With only a few weeks to go (and that’s being generous) we still have most of the major things left to buy. That’s not good is it?

It’s not that we haven’t tried. Lord knows we have, a bit. When we’re feeling up to it. We do have a nursery, which is good, aside from the fact the babies won’t sleep in it for a couple of months yet. And we’ve got cots. Oh how we’ve got cots. Thanks to a Mother-in-law with an itchy eBay finger we find ourselves in the possession of three cots. Our spare room looks like a P.O.W camp for infants.

We did try to buy a pushchair the other week, but when you’re shopping for two, it isn’t that simple.

For a start, when it comes to twin pushchairs, you only really have two options: the double-decker casket or the pedestrian plough. It really just depends whether you like the challenge of squeezing a metallic frame through a single doorway, or favour one of your children enough to shun the other. I’m not sure this is the choice Sophie had to make.

We decided for the side-by-side model. Sure, it means we’ll take up an ungodly amount of the pavement but at least the twins can enjoy each other’s company. That’s providing they’re both blessed with good personalities. However, with a wider pushchair, comes a wider frame as we found out to our peril.

As we took the pushchair for a test drive – test push? – we folded it down and tried to place it in our car boot. That didn’t happen. In an eerie premonition of the birth, me, my wife and my parents huddled together round a tight opening, shouting ‘Push! Push!’ The shop assistant, our designated midwife for the day, far from leaping to action, stood back with a panicked look on her face as we continued to scuff the wheels against the parcel shelf.

At a certain point, a thought that hits you when you’re trying to wedge a solid pushchair frame in the arse end of a Renault Clio in the middle of a busy retail park, and you think ‘this isn’t going to work’. Well, 20 minutes after that, I eventually gave up.

What that means now, is we have to go back to the garage and sheepishly ask if they’ll part-ex us. I know what you’re thinking – just pick another pushchair – but we’d already whittled down the (limited) choice to the two models that wouldn’t cripple us either financially or spinally. And so, to avoid the tribulations of sifting through competing opinions on parenting forums, we’re having to stump up the cash to change our car.

Still, at least then we’ll be prepared.

 

Restless Ramblings

Let’s talk tiredness.

But before we do, I’m aware that the people reading this will fall into two categories. Those who don’t have children, don’t want children, or have yet to decide about having/wanting children, and those with children.

Therefore, there are two responses that readers will have. Either blissful ignorance, assuming I’m exaggerating wildly and that things can’t be that bad, or a smug sense of ‘see, we told you’.

To those contemplating children – trust me, everything they say is true. To those who already have the little buggers, I’m sorry I never listened to you. You were the baggy-eyed canary down the coalmine, the boy who cried ‘sleep deprivation’. You were the scientist at the start of a disaster movie; we looked at our shoes in embarrassment as you droned on about the weird signal coming from outer space, the slight tremor detected in New Mexico, the ridiculous idea of creating a Disneyland for dinosaurs.

And now look – aliens are invading, that tornado seems a little shark-heavy, and the Triceratops is destroying the teacup ride.

My wife and I are tired. Shattered, in fact.

Where once we daydreamed about winning the lottery and illicit fantasies (I won’t go into it now, but suffice it to say: some lace, a goat and a bottle of Cif), now we drool over the thought of a 15-tog duvet and a milky Horlicks.

While we’re definitely not playing the Top Trumps of ailments, it’s only fair to say that, however tired I feel, Lucy is feeling worse. She isn’t so much owning tiredness, as laying the foundations for a lifetime of restless nights. Her ability to handle it all AND work, and not collapse is astounding. She remains incredible.

But still, we’re REALLY TIRED!

I can’t help but feel like I’ve wasted the last couple of years of my life. For as long as I can remember, it feels like I was constantly complaining about ‘feeling sleepy’ and nodding off in front of The One Show on an evening, while simultaneous getting up at half 5 in the morning and not going to bed until 1am. But now, I’d pay to feel like that. That slight sluggish feeling is my Shangri-La.

Suddenly, my brain’s ability to comprehend tiredness levels has been thrown out of whack. What used to feel like complete mental and physical shutdown, now feels like nothing more than a stifled yawn. Whereas real tiredness, the sort I now know, is more a kin to watching yourself take a running nose dive into a coma, via a tunnel of treacle.

But the thing is, we’re this tired and the twins aren’t even here yet.

We haven’t even reached the midnight feeds and the twilight changes but we’re on the floor. D:ream were wrong: things can only get worse. Damn you Brian Cox!

In fairness, we have had a lot on. Not only are we mentally preparing for the arrival of the twins, but we’re in the middle of what started out as buying a new shed, but has become a whole-house renovation. We’re without a full kitchen, full bathroom or a completed nursery but we’re in receipt of half an extension.

We thought we were giving ourselves some much-needed space and adding some value to the house. So far all we’ve succeeded in doing is filling the space with Moses baskets and carrycots, and reducing our life expectancy by a good couple of decades. And Christmas is just around the corner. Hold me.

But for all this tiredness, knowing that in a few short weeks we’ll be in possession of two little babies is incredible. We wouldn’t change them for anything.

Though we’ll happy rent them out in exchange for caffeine.