Learning curve

I’m writing this at 12.14 am, with a sleeping baby boy tied to me in a front wrap. His sister has been in her cot for the past couple of hours, although I suspect that she’ll be joining us again before I have a chance to finish writing this post. Both babies have been hugely unsettled since waking up for their lunch time feed, which has resulted in an afternoon and evening spent endlessly feeding, burping, changing nappies, changing clothes, and trying to coax one or both of them back to sleep (with very limited success).

We’ve spent most of the day feeling fairly frustrated, not able to figure out why Hattie and Joe were perfectly fine this morning and so challenging after lunch. Finally, this evening, I googled ‘three week old baby growth spurt’, as it was the only thing I could think of to explain the constant urge to feed, in particular. I was rewarded with numerous links confirming that babies do go through their first big growth spurt at this age (and Hattie and Joe will be three weeks old on Wednesday). Apparently babies are uniformly grizzly and difficult for 24 – 36 hours, with a lot of inconsolable crying and endless demands for food. The aim of the exercise – although the babies obviously don’t realise that there is a point to what we would surely classify as their somewhat anti-social behaviour – is to prompt my body to produce more milk, ensuring that they’re well fed and can grow as required. I almost dare not to write this down for fear of jinxing it, but I did read in more than one place that this current unsettled period (and my friend Nic commented that the word ‘unsettled’ really doesn’t do this behavour justice: I agree, and I think that ‘deranged’ is more apt) should be followed by a fairly restful period where both babies will catch up on sleep and do some growing. Please, God, let this be true.

(And it’s just struck me that I might be totally wrong, and that this might not be the three week growth spurt after all, and that I might still have that coming at me like a runaway train. That’s a scary thought!)

The main thing that has prevented me from losing the plot today has been the fact that Tristan is off work until Thursday. He ended up taking sole charge of grizzly Hattie for an hour or so this afternoon, enabling me to have a nap, and I’ve returned the favour by sending him to bed at 10ish in order to recharge his batteries (and ensure that he’ll be fit enough to step up again when Hattie wakes up later). I’m tempted to try to slip slumbering Joe out of the wrap and into a nearby bassinet, so I can stretch out on the sofa and doze: I might try it when I’ve finished writing, although I suspect that his eyes will pop open and he’ll start to wail. I’m learning that sometimes it’s easier to just go with the flow. Both babies WILL sleep eventually, and when that happens I’ll sleep as well. There’s no point stressing about it until then.

The past few days have been very hard. I know that it’s because the babies are getting bigger and more demanding (really, brand new babies do absolutely nothing but eat and sleep, and settling them to sleep involves nothing more than swaddling them and lying them down), but I’ve felt like I’m steadily getting worse at this parenting gig with every passing day. Skills that I thought I was getting the hang of, like settling a baby in the cot, no longer seem to be effective. It’s very frustrating and also quite upsetting – I’ve been averaging at least one weepy session each day. I don’t really have the words to describe the steepness of this learning curve, and I’ve struggled to think of any time that I’ve felt under this much pressure. The only time of my life that even slightly compares with this is the middle of 2008, when I was redesigning the entire Community Affairs strategy for my firm, writing my thesis to finish my Masters, and training for a marathon.

Although Tristan has expressly forbidden me to use the following phrase, my big problem is this; I just don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Some things – like uncovering the source of today’s behaviour – I can research or puzzle out, but other things just feel like they’re beyond me. For example (and this is a really basic thing that every twin mother has to sort out): how should I handle burping and settling both babies when I’m looking after them by myself? I’ve been tandem feeding because it’s a nice bonding experience and also very efficient, but it means that both babies need burping and settling at the same time. The alternative is to feed, burp, change and resettle one baby before waking up the second baby, but I don’t think that this will make my life any easier: how would I cope if I was in the middle of settling the first baby, and the second one woke up roaring for a feed? And if I did one and then the other, when would I ever have time to rest and eat? I’m not hankering for rest and food just for fun (or, you know, because they’re basic needs): I won’t be able to produce enough milk, or milk of sufficient quality, if I’m over-tired and badly nourished. I just don’t know what to do, and talking to people who have dealt with newborn twins before me quickly reveals two things: 1) there is no ‘right’ way; you just have to figure out what works best for you; and 2) most people have somebody on hand to help them in these early weeks.

While I can accept that there is no one ‘right’ way to do things, I also know that there are many ‘wrong’ ways: habits and techniques that could end up making life even more difficult. Obviously, I’m eager to avoid these (while acknowledging that some of them, like nursing to sleep, are just what I need to do in order to get by at the moment, and that the babies really are a bit too young to be forming any really dreadful habits). Basically, I want a trouble-shooting guide to dealing with babies: how to do all the ‘technical’ bits (burping, settling, etc) effectively, and how (and when) to set some kind of routine for the babies (within the boundaries of what is realistic and reasonable for such young people, obviously). As I said tonight on Facebook, I feel like I need high performance baby coaching.

Luckily for us, help like this is available: tomorrow (or today, actually; it’s nearly 1am now) we’re spending four hours with Sharlene Poole, who is regarded as New Zealand’s leading baby expert. She’s written an excellent book and produced a very helpful DVD, but she also runs a consultancy and offers her services on a one-to-one basis. We decided that it was worth a few hundred dollars to get some really good help and advice, to help us along the right track and to trouble-shoot as much as possible. I’m really looking forward to it. I do not enjoy feeling incompetent and I know that I’m not doing as badly as I think I am (if that makes sense), but it’s hard to remember that when you’re faced with crying babies, and you’re tired and hormonal, and your boobs ache from milk coming down, and you’re quietly (OK, not very quietly) dreading the prospect of dealing with all this baby stuff by yourself in a few days’ time. I’m sure that it would be pretty challenging to get to grips with one newborn, but I do feel that I could manage that reasonably well: it’s the sheer pressure of catering for two babies that freaks me out. And yet I wouldn’t swap my new life for the world, and I know that we’ll get through this difficult time… I just need some help along the way.

Beyond the expert help, we’re also hatching a plan to get some daily help from Natalie, one of our neighbours. Natalie finished her degree last year and spent a few months in England, au-pairing. She’s now intending to work this year before probably going to teachers’ training college next year, so hopefully we can make a contribution to her income for few months and, in exchange, she can be the spare pair of hands I need when Tristan’s at work. She’s going to join us for the second half of our session with Sharlene, so we’re all on the same page.

Reasonably early on in my pregnancy I went to a parenting session (run by Dorothy Waide, another local baby expert), and was surrounded by new mothers with their babies. I got quite emotional afterwards: I was still in ‘freaking out about having twins’ mode, and I was so aware that these women, with their singleton babies, could devote care and attention on their children that, as a twin mother, I wouldn’t be able to provide. In the past I’ve never taken seriously the idea of maternal guilt, but my goodness, I understand it now. I feel bad that Hattie is in her cot while Joe gets to sleep snuggled in with me. When I’m forced to choose to cater to the needs of one baby over the other (which happens dozens of times every day; I can only do one thing at a time, after all), I feel bad about it. I feel quite jealous of people who are only dealing with one baby, and have the time and energy to cater to their every need at a moment’s notice.

I know that it’s silly and unproductive to feel like this, and that I’m going to have to get over it, and accept that Hattie and Joe will know no different and will therefore be fine, but knowing all of this doesn’t make it any less hard. Although I know that having our two children at the same time will work out well for us in the long run (and anyway, it’s not like we have a choice in the matter), I do feel a pang that my ability to bond with each of them might be compromised. It’s an unsolvable problem, I realise. I can only do the best I can, and trust that, between us, Tristan and I will be able to meet Hattie and Joe’s many needs, physical and emotional. Together, I think we’ll be OK.

Anyway, Hattie is still asleep, so I’m going to see if I can catch a quick sitting-up nap on the sofa without disturbing my little koala cub in the wrap.

6 thoughts on “Learning curve

  1. Oh Jacq – this reads as such a cry from the heart! Hang in there. I know we all keep writing this to the point where you must want to scream at everybody, but I do think you are doing an amazing job, as twins are absolutely no picnic. I’m not surprised you are envious of mums with just one to worry about, it’s perfectly natural. Try not to give into the guilt – you have nothing to feel guilty about. I’m a (very) lapsed catholic, we know alllll about guilt and how destructive it can be. It’s so unproductive and the last thing you need to burden yourself with on top of everything else.

    From what people tell me, boys tend to be harder work when younger and it’s the girls you worry about as they get older… so I’m tempted to say – don’t worry, Hattie will give you PLENTY of sleepless nights as she gets older but this was meant to be a reassuring post!

    Bottom line – if Hattie is happily sleeping by herself then all is good in her little world and you will hopefully get a chance to even up the bonding time once expressing comes into it and Tristan can take over Joe a bit more. Although again, with twins and the double demand on your boobs – I have no idea whether you would even get round to expressing as it would seem to me the milk bar probably gets emptied frequently enough as it is?

    Will be very interested to learn what your Baby guru thinks when she visits and what words of wisdom she has for you all but absolutely nobody would say you are doing a bad job Jacq. I genuinely think you are a legend and coping incredibly well in very demanding circumstances (which hopefully wont last indefinitely). Special kudos to your amazing hubby and the ever patient Tui as well.

    Thinking of you and sending massive electronic hugs xxx

  2. Oh Jacq, really feel for you. I can remember sitting on the edge of my bed with a screaming Kitty at about 3 weeks old, just crying at her “what do you want, I’ll do it, anything, just tell me what you want”, like a demented loon. Even now, 5.5 years and another child on, I still sometimes feel like a complete fraud, feeling I’m going to be found out any time, that I shouldn’t be left in charge of a small child.

    Good on you for being so proactive and getting hold of some great sounding people. And the power of sleep for all involved should never be underestimated. And it sounds like you’ve got some great help on hand – the sainted Tristan!

    Also, because obviously you’ve got a lot of time on your hands for reading, but this is very interesting (I think a new updated version is due to be published imminently) – describes how those periods of unexplained “fussiness” often precede a developmental change (growth/physical/mental). Just ignore all the stuff about weaning at 4 months…

  3. I remember that stage….they seem to wake up from their initial slumber and it’s on for young and old. Sometimes there is no reason for changes in their behaviour – I guess like we adults, some days you just wake up grumpy. But, hang in there – when they hit the six week mark and you start to get smiles it makes it all worthwhile.

    But know this, you are a fabulous mother because you love your babies, and any choices you make will be fine. I am one of those parents that didn’t play by the rules and it made some things more difficult and some things easier. At the end of the day you need to make decisions based on what you think is right. Don’t worry about what anyone else is saying, go with your gut instinct. I’m not saying don’t take advice – heck there are a lot of people out there that can bring sanity back into your life! But my only parenting advice I give mother’s and father’s is to do what makes you feel most comfortable and then block out the rest of the world. 😉
    There is so much conflicting advice.

    Oh, and try and get family/friends to help – never say no to help 😉


  4. Remember when Pip had her twins; they took turns regarding their behaviour. I cannot remember whether that was when they were newborns like Joe and Hattie or whether that started when they were a little older. It came to mind about your concern about having two crying babies needing attention whilst on your own; it may that it is Hattie’s turn to be the ‘good’ sleeping twin while Joe has been more demanding recently. However, wasn’t it Hattie who was unsettled for a few days while Joe was sleeping peacefully? If that is the case you may find that double burping and settling etc may not be as much of an issue as you fear.
    I do hope the guru lady has helped with your belief in your competence if nothing else. You aren’t doing anything wrong; you are just getting used to being a parent. This is one of those things that requires learning by doing, and that involves occasionally getting it wrong. If you turned out to be perfect everyone would be marvelling but just a little bit jealous! So don’t worry – in six months time you won’t remember all this. Except of course you can re-read your facebook and blog entries and realise just how steep the learning curve really is, by which time you will be flying. Love xx

  5. I really hope that Sharlene will be able to give you some advice that you feel will work for you. Remember this teeny tiny stage wont last forever and the babies will do just fine waiting for their turn for a feed. If Hattie is content to sleep on her own in the cot for a few hours then go with that! Natalie sounds like a good plan too. You can also hire a Karitane nurse to come help you out. It’s about $25 an hour I think and they have the experience and knowledge to really help if you feel you need someone with a bit more wisdom.

  6. I’m sorry you’re going through a rough time Jacq, and I really hope the baby expert lady had some great advice. All I can say is that every mother feels like you do whether they have twins or one baby at a time (I was a stressed out weepy mess for about 4 mths after Gabriella was born, wondering why the hell I decided having a baby at 22 was a good idea),- guilty, not good enough, like they don’t know what they’re doing, and that it’s the hardest challenge they’ve faced. When you feel bad that you’re not able to devote all your time to each baby remember that it’s not just a twin thing, it’s the same for babies with older siblings – a mother who is trying to contend with a busy little two year old simply can’t devote as much time as she’d like to her newborn, and she can’t devote as much to her two year old either, and yet both children are fine and know they’re loved, and it all works out. Do what works best for you and know that you’re not alone in feeling like this, I don’t think anyone breezes through having newborns, but it does get better – you will sleep again, get time to yourself, get out of the house, etc. Love you loads xxx

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