shake it off 

When the babies were only a few weeks old, and I was completely overwhelmed looking after two tiny newborns and a rambunctious toddler, four o’clock was a very hard time. Everyone was tired, wound up, hungry, and I was desperate for my husband to come home from work. I was trying really hard not to fall into the abyss, and the long, dark days of winter didn’t help this feeling.

To deal with it, I made four o’clock ‘Dancing Time’ – when, no matter what we were doing, we’d drop everything and put on some energetic music (sometimes even Just Dance videos on YouTube) and let out our pent-up energy. One of our regular dancing tracks was Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’; the uptempo beat and f-you lyrics the perfect antidote to a stressful, relentless day.  Even the babies loved being jiggled about in the sling and some of Jake’s first giggles were as he watched us fling about our limbs energetically.

The song has continued as a favourite, instantly cutting through our bad moods and grouchiness. It made it onto my first running playlist, and it’s still there 18 months later, pushing me on when I’m lacking energy. Last summer Lucas requested it almost every time we got into the car, and by July could sing along with Taylor through to the end. He insisted that she was singing “shake it, ahh” – not realising that it was her accent and stylised voice that disguised the word. In the end I agreed with him as he got so upset trying to convince me and it seemed a petty thing to argue over. 

‘Shake it Off’ still makes me smile whenever I hear it. Partly because of these precious memories, and because it’s apt for a time when I’ve struggled to let go of negative influences in my life. “Haters gonna hate” – it’s teenspeak that I’m 20 years too old for, but the sentiment is true. The song contains good advice for my children, too. I’d like them to grow up to be resilient, to assume they can achieve anything and everything they want to – to be able to shake off negativity rather than getting drawn into it. 

And if you’re not a fan of Taylor, you can always check out the Beef Seeds’ bluegrass cover of ‘Shake it Off’ instead – it’s worth a listen! 

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about a boy


Lucas, on the eve of your first day of school.

I write about you, my darling boy, and I could fill pages upon pages. You can be infuriating, challenging, frustrating. You are kind, thoughtful, inquisitive, clever. You teach us how to parent, and often how not to parent, and your younger siblings will thank you for that one day. You don’t have an easy ride, and I am sorry for that. But you are happy, and you know you are loved, and you love fiercely. 
There are so many things about you that remind me of me – and I’m sorry for those, too! You will start primary school tomorrow and we can’t wait to see how you deal with that adventure, although we are nervous for you as you will one day understand. Like me, you see things in black and white and you find any perceived injustice very hard to bear. I wonder how you will deal with this at school, and I hope it won’t hamper you. Like both of us, you have an incredible thirst for knowledge and information, and you are surpassing us greatly in your studies of dinosaurs. I think you will really enjoy learning new things at school and I’m sure you’ll be able to educate us in many areas!

You are growing up into a truly wonderful boy and my biggest hope is that you continue to be the happy, open-hearted child you are. We are not always the parents we want to be – sometimes we make mistakes – but I hope you know how much we love and adore you, and that we will always be here, watching and rooting for you. 

Here’s to your next adventure – may it be big, joyful, and full of wonder.

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fake it ’til you make it

The most memorable piece of parenting advice my dad gave me is also the one I fall back on most frequently. I think it’s actually one of The Parent’s best-kept secrets, and I’m going to share it with you. Prepare yourself: it’s a big one.

We don’t actually know what the hell we are doing. 

I know, right? When you were a kid and your parents seemed to have it all together, know exactly what to do and how to handle every situation, did you imagine that they were completely winging it? 

I can’t remember what prompted my dad to tell me this – it’s likely that I was bemoaning my lack of any clue what to do with my toddler – but I recall that I asked him “how did you always know what the right thing to do was?!” That is when he laughed, and replied “fake it ’til you make it.”

My dad’s pretty impressive approach is to act like you know what you are doing, even when you have no idea what the right course of action is.  This fools your child into believing that you hold the road map, therefore you are in control. It must work quite well, because until he shared this with me I actually thought he knew exactly what he was doing. The alternative is that I was an incredibly gullible child, so I prefer to credit my dad’s fakery. 

I jest, but I was seriously simultaneously aghast (my childhood belief in my parents’ omnipotence was shattered) and awed (they had me believing wholeheartedly in their omnipotence). As parenting approaches go, it’s simple but brilliant and it’s served us well. As it works, your confidence in yourself grows, and herein lies its true brilliance: you don’t even realise when you’ve stopped faking it. Suddenly the right course of action starts coming naturally to you, and when you stop for a minute, you realise that you’ve got this. 

At least until the next phase. Then you can go right back to faking it.

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what we did: dino land

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More dinosaurs! As Lucas was leaving to go to his childminder’s house for the day, I had a flash of inspiration for a no-fuss activity we could do when he got home. I’ve been wanting to invite more exploration of natural materials but the weather has been so rubbish lately that none of us feel like spending much time outdoors. Lucas has been playing in an imaginary ‘Dino Land’ with his friends at daycare and I thought we could make a small world ‘dino land’ for him to explore with his figures.

It took less than five minutes to set up – I dashed into our front garden with a plastic tub, and chose leaves and wildflowers of varying sizes, shapes and colours. They needed some drying time so I left them under the radiator. When Lucas came home, we got out his plastic dinosaurs and I let him explore dino land. He enjoyed making the dinosaurs ‘talk’ to each other (they are often all called Bob) and helping them navigate through the leaves and flowers.

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what we did: ice excavating

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I loved the simplicity of this activity. Plastic dinosaurs, animals and shells frozen in water, placed inside plastic boxes for the scientists to excavate. I really struggle to find activities that work for both Lucas and the twins, but this held both biggest and tinygirl’s interest (tinyboy slept through it!).

Due to over-freezing, the blocks took a while to start melting. This provided an excellent opportunity for learning, as we discussed what can melt ice. Lucas came up with fire (conveniently the wood burner was going!), using our hands, pouring warm water over the block, and using tools. We tried all four of these and talked about how they compare.

Tinygirl had a fantastic time touching the ice, depositing her lunch into the box, and playing with the tools.

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when it all goes wrong again

Today I rang my GP to discuss increasing my medication for anxiety and depression. It is a phone call that I have been putting off for several weeks, hoping to avoid it, that things would start feeling easier. They haven’t, so I know it is time to ask for help.

Maintaining good mental health is a delicate balance that I have been dealing with for a long time. Things have become harder since having my children and I have suffered two bouts of bad postnatal depression, as well as post traumatic stress disorder. I am pragmatic about needing medication to help: after all, if I was diabetic, I would expect to take insulin to manage the condition.

Despite this, I still struggle with the stigma attached to mental health issues, and I find it hard to admit when the balance is tipping away from my control. Like most people, I do not like to admit when I am having a difficult time. My anxiety is very connected to feelings of failure and negative thoughts, and I prefer to soldier on until it becomes clear that I can’t.

This doesn’t make me strong, just like asking for help doesn’t make me weak. Sometimes I have to work really hard to remind myself of this. I am lucky to have a close group of friends who will also remind me of this, and with whom I can be truly honest. Sometimes it helps to just say, “yes, I am struggling,” and know that they won’t look at me any differently.

True friends take the rough with the smooth and the bad with the good. They are there for you when you’re at your worst, not just your best. They love you when you’re struggling and they hold you up so that you don’t have to go it alone. It is I have friends like these that I found the strength to make the call today.

We need to be more open about and accepting of other’s struggles. Admitting that you’re having a hard time is not a sign of weakness – it is normal, and anyone who judges you negatively for being honest is someone you do not need in your life. Asking for help should be encouraged, not frowned upon.

I know things will get better for me, because they always do. I will ask for help (albeit grudgingly) and I am lucky to have a small number of good friends who will make sure I don’t flounder. Even though I may feel alone, I know that I’m not. And gradually, life will seem easier again.

Stockport is creating a perinatal mental health forum ‪#‎stockportPNMH‬
The group is bringing together statutory services, primary care, volunteer organisations and charities to improve the way parents’ mental health is looked after in the perinatal period.

The first meeting will be on Weds 24th February 7.30pm at the Education Room, Maternity Unit, Stepping Hill Hospital.

This meeting will be focussing on raising the knowledge and improving the education of Midwives & Health Visitors around perinatal mental health.

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the new normal

 

two weeks postpartum with my eldest. note matching expressions of mild panic.

 
How long did it take you to get back to normal after having your baby? It’s a question I hear frequently from brand-new parents, often with a hint of desperation. I’m not sure how to tell them that, nearly four years down the line, I’m still not there.

There is such an emphasis on ‘getting back to normal’ in our culture; women are commended for quickly dropping their baby weight, working demanding jobs, and doing all of the things they used to do – with a baby in tow. Since I had my first child, it seems to me a very unrealistic expectation: that you should carry on exactly as before, despite the huge event that is adding a small, dependent human to your family.
When my oldest son was born, it felt like the pieces of my life had been chucked up into the air and had landed all mixed up. Parts of it were recognisable as mine (feeding cats, talking to friends and family) but for the most part I seemed to have found myself in a surrealist painting slash alternative nightmarish reality. The thought that I’d eventually ‘get back to normal’ kept me from teetering over the brink of complete panic. To me, ‘normal’ looked like handing my baby over to a well-qualified childcare provider, while I returned to a job that I felt at least reasonably competent performing. I didn’t feel confident, comfortable, or a natural mother, and I longed for some of the ease of my old life.

Unfortunately, this ceased to be an option when my post was made redundant. My son was five months old, I was starting to come out of my postnatal depression-fog, and felt like actually I might just be capable of caring for him after all. This former (don’t laugh!) control freak was forced to confront a new normal: without the option of returning to my job, it didn’t make financial sense to seek work as childcare costs were so high. I went from career-woman to full-time mum: not the ‘normal’ I’d envisaged getting back to, but a decision we came to together, that was (and is) best for the three of us.

When my twins were born, there wasn’t as much internal pressure to get back to normal – at least, not for my own sake. We knew that adding two babies to our family would have a huge impact on our son, and we wanted to keep his life as level as possible. We also felt reasonably confident that we’d find a new normal, together as a family of five. Because we’d kept one child alive for two years, we were more relaxed about the newborn stage, more open to going with the flow. We were also more comfortable with our approach to parenting than we’d been with our first son; we trusted our instincts better.

So, how long does it take to get back to normal? I suppose for me, there was no ‘back’ to normal – my life bears little resemblance to that of four years ago. It’s not always been an easy transition and sometimes I wish for parts of my old world back. It is what it is, though, and as part of the bargain I have three amazing small people to spend time with. My body has changed, my daily activities have changed, my priorities have changed. Sometimes it’s hard to accept, and on the days I feel like railing against this new normal, I look through photos of the early days with my eldest and remind myself how far we’ve come. We are finding our new normal every day, and we’re doing just fine.

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savouring the moment

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I was talking with a friend last week, whose eldest daughter starts primary school this month. I asked her the usual questions – how are you feeling about it? will you miss her? – and her reply really got me thinking. She told me that she’s not really one your looking back or forward. That she tries to appreciate every stage her children are at, and savour them – accepting both good and bad times.

Her words stayed with me as I picked Lucas up from preschool that afternoon, his first proper session. Normally I’d be rushing back home with the children; thinking about what I needed to get done that afternoon; mentally planning for the weekend. But this time I heard my friend’s words in my head and it gave me pause. I suddenly stopped thinking about the things I needed to do, and thought about how in a year it will be Lucas starting primary school. I thought about how much has happened in the last year and how short a time it is really, how much I’d like to savour our time together.

We walked past the bakery and he spotted some biscuits with faces iced on them. His own face lit up as he pointed them out – “FACES, Mummy, look at the funny faces!”. I replied in my usual way, “oh wow! Maybe we can get some one time,” and although I didn’t mean it as a dismissal, his posture dropped with his muttered “oh.” Normally I’d have kept going, trying to engage him in conversation about his afternoon, but this time I stopped the buggy and crouched down.

“Lucas, would you like to get some biscuits today?” I asked him. The excitement returned to his face as he shouted “YES PLEASE, MUMMY!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. I gave him a big hug, we turned around, and took pleasure in choosing the faces we wanted. We made a plan to get home and eat the biscuits while snuggling together on the sofa, while the babies played. We chatted all the way home and I felt for the first time in a while like I’d done right by him.

Here’s the thing: sometimes I worry so much about spoiling Lucas, about him turning into a demanding brat, that I forego the opportunity to have fun with him. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that one biscuit on one day (that he didn’t even actually ask for) is not going to spoil him, but it did give us a really nice shared experience. It was simple, easy, and cheap, but my normal pattern would have meant we’d missed out.

Since that day, I’ve been looking to create fun wherever I can. I catch myself before automatically saying “no”. I let Lucas do what he wants to, where possible. I trust him not to push it and I can feel him relaxing in my company. He’s calmer, handling transitions better (something that he’s always struggled with) and he’s finding it easier to shake it off if things don’t go his way. Consequently, our time together is naturally more enjoyable.

It’s not always easy, but I feel like we are on the right path. And when I struggle, I know my friend will be there to remind me to savour the moment – even if that ‘moment’ is cuddling my screaming preschooler!

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review: je porte mon bébé ring sling

12017441_10102171734196039_4724760113100672899_oIf we’ve met, you may have noticed that I’m a HUGE fan of Je Porte Mon Bébé (JPMBB) products. The range is small but excellent and yes, I love the French origins too!

One product on offer is the JPMBB ring sling or petite écharpe sans noeud (little wrap without a knot). It’s not like a woven ring sling, but it’s not like the JPMBB Original or Basic either. It’s what helped me to finally ‘get’ ring slings when I first tried one nearly two years ago.

It’s got stretch, so it’s mouldable to tiny babies. It’s strong, so it’s supportive for big kids. It’s comfortable for wearer and child. It’s easy to adjust without disturbing the baby’s position. At around £60, it won’t break the bank, and will give you longevity as your child grows. Less important, but it looks stylish and comes in lots of colour combos!
In short, I really rate it and would recommend it for people who haven’t got on with other ring slings – it might just change your mind!

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adventures in twinwearing

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Photo credit: Chris Foster Photography

When I found out I was going to have twins, one of the things I was most excited about was trying out slings with two babies. I learned a lot about tandem babywearing during my School of Babywearing peer support and consultancy courses, and I had worked with a few twin parents prior to getting pregnant, so I knew that there were a lot of different options. I was looking forward to finding out what worked for us, and I was excited about trying out different slings from birth, as I mainly used a Moby Wrap or Bali Breeze with Lucas until he was around six months old.

Since I am often asked, I wanted to write about my experience so far, both of carrying my own twins, and through working with local twin parents as a babywearing consultant. I would love to hear your experiences so please feel free to share in the comments section, or email me on elliethouret@gmail.com.

Safety first

Babywearing is not a particularly risky activity if you do it safely. The TICKS Rule and ABC are a good start and are easy to remember – you can find out more about babywearing safety on the Sling Pages website. If you are carrying more than once child, there are of course additional safety concerns. It sounds obvious, but make sure you are aware of both babies, particularly ensuring their airways are clear, chins are off chests, and backs are supported – not slumped.

If you are using two separate carriers, the safest way to combine them is to put each on separately, rather than threading one through the straps of the other. Slings and in particular mei tais and soft structured carriers are designed and tested to bear the weight of a child in the panel of the carrier – not by the straps alone. There is no guarantee that the carrier straps will stand up to bearing the weight of the second child if used in this way.

Wearing from birth

Many of the twin parents I meet are looking for something practical that will help them cope with the logistics of dealing with two babies. When you have two (or more!) newborns, it can feel like a constant juggling act to meet everyone’s needs and using slings can be a huge help. In addition to practicality, babywearing from birth offers many benefits, including helping to establish a secure bond, encouraging the production of hormones for breastfeeding, and settling baby during the fourth trimester.

There are many slings that can be used from birth. In my personal experience, nothing beats a stretchy wrap for the first few weeks. I loved the Moby Wrap with Lucas but when I saw this JPMBB Basic stretchy, I knew we had to have it! I am a huge fan of JPMBB products and the Basic has fast become my favourite stretchy (I should probably save my fawning for another post or this will become extremely long!). You can use a stretchy wrap with either one or both twins – like most options, there are advantages and disadvantages to wearing both. You can settle both babies at the same time, but you may find it cumbersome having both on your front. You can quickly put babies in and out of a stretchy, but you may find it less supportive as both babies grow heavier.

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First twinwearing!

Sadly, we were admitted to hospital the day after Aurora and Jake were born, which was a very upsetting experience for all of us. My first experience of carrying them in a sling was on the children’s ward at night. They were both crying and I felt really nervous handling them as they were quite small (under 6lbs each) and Jake was very wheezy. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I put the stretchy on in a pocket wrap cross carry, before putting one baby in each pass. It didn’t feel as tight as I’d have liked, but they immediately calmed down and snuggled in to me and each other. It was a really emotional moment, as it was the first time since birth that Jake stopped wheezing, and I realised how much he needed to be close to me and to his twin sister. I felt a huge rush of love and protective instinct as I looked down at my tiny babies, not yet 24 hours old.

Do I have to tandem-carry?

There is a huge range of options for parents wanting to tandem-carry their twins. Which options/combinations suit you will depend on many factors, including the age/developmental stage of your babies. While it is possible to tandem-carry with one newborn on your back and the other on your front, new babywearers may prefer to gain confidence before back-carrying as there are additional safety considerations, particularly with young babies. Many of my clients have preferred to get to grips with slinging one baby at a time, keeping the option of carrying two for times when both need immediate attention. Although many twin parents assume that you ‘need’ to carry both babies at the same time, most find that wearing even one baby at a time can make life easier. Anyone who has ever tried grappling with a double buggy will likely agree!

Some of the tandem carries I tried in the first couple of months were: both in one stretchy wrap, both in one woven wrap (in a front wrap cross carry variation), one baby on my back and one on my front (in woven wraps), and both babies in one podaegi. These are just some of the options available and they each have advantages and disadvantages. In reality, my husband and I often carried one twin each when we were both out and about – he was keen to babywear too, and it really helped him to bond with our new additions.

When I’m talking about tandem-wearing, I usually refer to it as one of the tools in your twin-parenting toolkit. Just like tandem-feeding, it is often assumed that you will always want to carry your babies at the same time. In reality, you are more likely to adapt your approach to each situation – sometimes you may want to carry both babies; sometimes you may prefer to carry one. For the record, it is often the same with tandem-feeding!

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Our son was just two and a half when our twins arrived, and was used to being carried in a sling. We were really keen for him not to feel displaced, so I often carried him on my back in our wrap conversion mei tai, and a twin on my front in a woven wrap. The other twin would be in a carrycot in our buggy. It wasn’t what I imagined my early tandem-wearing experience would look like, but I really feel it helped Lucas to adjust to being one of three – it can’t have been easy for him.

Getting older

When your babies move past the newborn stage, they inevitably become bigger, heavier, and much more wriggly! Tandem-wearing can be both a lifesaver (particularly during teething periods) and a burden (literally – two babies can get heavy) with older babies and toddlers. If you get into slinging once your babies are older, you might find you need to build your strength up gradually – it is unlikely that you will be used to carrying two babies in-arms (although I think we’ve all been there…).

If you choose to tandem-carry your older twins, there is no reason why you cannot continue to use the option/s that suit you (with the exception of the stretchy wrap as you may find this lacking in support for two babies). There is also the exciting world of back-carrying, and with this the possible combinations of carriers widen almost infinitely!

There is a distinct lack of twin-specific carriers on the market, I think because it is difficult to achieve two comfortable carries using only one sling (with the exception of a woven wrap!). I am often asked about the TwinGo Carrier. It’s a cleverly-designed buckled carrier that comes in two parts, the ‘base’ and the ‘attachment’. Each part can be used separately (e.g. by two parents) and they combine to allow the carrying of two children, without the bulk of two waistbands and two sets of shoulder straps. It has advantages and disadvantages (of course!): it’s relatively quick and easy to use, and is comfortable as there is only one set of straps. Some people find that the child on the back is a bit lower than they would like – this is because the front and back parts are on the same ‘level’ when the waistbands are clipped together.

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My friend Phuong is my twin-wearing idol. She is teeny-tiny, yet she makes carrying her big and beautiful twin boys look effortless! She mainly uses woven wraps and always looks happy and calm in her photos – I would love to look like that! In reality, I end up looking sweaty and feeling frazzled if I try and tandem my twins in one woven wrap – it’s just not for us. I prefer to use two separate wraps or a wrap and a mei tai – it’s no better or worse than one woven wrap, it’s just what’s right for us.

Resources

It is entirely possible to learn how to use various slings/wrap carries by reading articles and watching online videos. Tandem-wearing is usually considered a ‘special circumstance’ and you may find it beneficial to visit a sling meet/library or see your local babywearing consultant for a one-to-one appointment.

I have found the below resources invaluable in my own twinwearing journey:

Twin Sling (Facebook group)

Tandem Babywearing (Facebook group)

Wrap Your Baby (wrapping twins resource)

Wrapping Mamma’s YouTube channel

Wrapabyebaby Twinsling’s YouTube channel

Sling Pages (local listings of sling libraries, meets and consultants)

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