In January 2010 my fiancé, David, and I started our fifth cycle of ICSI in the hope of getting pregnant and having a baby of our own. We were starting to wonder if IVF was ever going to work for us. But it did and by the end of February 2010 we knew that we were pregnant, and not just with one baby but with two.
We thought our heartache was over. We were pregnant, we were going to have our babies.
At 26 weeks our bubble burst when I had to have emergency abdominal surgery and less than 2 weeks later our babies were born. 13 weeks too soon!
For 59 days I learned everything I could about being a Mum to these two tiny precious bundles of life and in September 2010 we were allowed to bring them home.
For the last 9 and a half months the babies have been exclusively breast fed albeit by tube at first. I have grown them outside of my body even if I was not capable of carrying them to term inside, and of that I am extremely proud.
Becoming a Mummy is without doubt the hardest and best thing I have ever done. The last nine months have been so full of happiness and heartache and every emotion in between.
We have our babies, they are home, they are safe and they grow bigger and stronger everyday of our loving them. Of my feeding them!!
From the moment we started trying for a baby I knew that I would want to breastfeed. I dreamed of the moment my son or daughter would be born, they would be placed on my tummy, crawl up to my breast with that natural first instinct and latch on. I had not in my wildest dreams thought about giving birth to a son and a daughter, or doing so at just 27 weeks.
Instead of my dream skin to skin moment my babies were swiftly whisked away and placed in the plastic boxes where they would stay, alone, for the first 59 days of their lives.
I thought that my breastfeeding dream was over but just hours after the birth David and I found ourselves on a hospital bed collecting colostrum from my nipples with a syringe. Even this small, this sick, this soon I was going to be able to feed my babies. Especially this small, this sick, this soon, I needed to feed my babies.
The staff on the maternity ward and in NICU were fully supportive of my decision to feed Esther and William only breast milk as soon as their tiny stomachs were ready for it. They would be fed by tube until such time as they were ready to learn to suck. Their milk consumption was tiny to begin with 1ml every 4 hours. Esther tolerated milk much better than William in the beginning and her amounts went up much faster.
You can read more of our story on this blog if you want to know more about the progression of tube feeding.
After 5 long weeks, at 32 weeks gestational age, Esther and William were finally ready to try and get food for themselves from the breast. William was first to have a go and I will never forget how I felt when the nurse suggested it to me. I was elated but at the same time terrified that he and I would not know what to do. I was panic stricken. I became self conscious and worried. Nervous. I asked for a screen to shield me from other people in the room in case I did it wrong! But … I got William out of his incubator and put him to the breast and it just felt like the most natural but magical thing in the world. Not that he really did very much that first time. It was the way he looked at me and the warm feeling of his breath on my breast more than anything that made my heart miss a beat with love and adoration for this tiny perfect baby boy that is mine! He did lick around the nipple and had a bit of a nibble and suck but nothing much at all before falling asleep. And I just held him and watched him sleep and it was perfect and I was filled with love for him. Our beautiful baby boy! Such a clever little thing. A clever, sleepy thing! It was the most precious mother and son moment, the first of many and I was impatient to try again.
The next day was Esther’s turn to try and William also got another go. The feeding cuddles were lovely that day. Their feeds were staggered which made life a bit easier for me. William fed on even hours and Esther on odd. So at midday the nurse helped me to get William out of the twin cot. I put him to the breast and he was awake. He had a lick around and tried a bit of sucking. He did much better than the day before and I couldn’t wait to try him again. At 1pm I got Esther out. She seemed to understand straight away what to do. She licked for a bit, then chomped on my nipple for a bit, then opened her mouth up wide and started sucking! She was sucking for a good while then decided to show us that she did not know how to swallow by spitting out the milk that she had managed to suck all down my top! Bless.
I remember that even then both babies were so calm and stable whilst at the breast. They obviously liked being there which was a good step in the right direction. I knew that getting feeding right would take patience and perseverance from all of us over the coming weeks.
Beginning to breastfeed was the most wonderful experience. I loved having my babies so close, holding them, talking to them, loving them, feeding them and helping them grow. This love affair with breastfeeding has continued until now when I am becoming very sad that one day soon Esther and William will not need or want to feed from me as much. I will miss these precious moments.
As the days progressed the twins were being put to the breast for alternate feeds. They were both trying really hard to feed themselves and William could definitely swallow from the start. I remember when the nurse first aspirated about 5mls out of his tummy after a feed. I was so proud of my super little boy. Sometimes when the nurse aspirated Esther’s stomach there was nothing there. The poor things they used to work so hard for so little! But slowly and steadily as they grew bigger and stronger so did the reflex to swallow and suck.
Having enough milk was never a problem for me. I think because I was encouraged by the hospital to express milk from the beginning when the time came for the babies to actually breastfeed my supply was abundant. In fact when the babies first came home they always had fizzy green poo as a result of me having too much milk and them only getting foremilk during a feed and not reaching the nutrient dense, fattening hind milk. This was a balance that they corrected themselves very quickly as they got bigger and their sucks got stronger. When the babies were in NICU I expressed every 3 hours night and day. I could not have done this without the support of my fiancé who got up with me through the night when expressing for our babies who were not there.
Before we could bring the babies home they had to be demand feeding. There were times in the hospital when I thought that we would never get there. Learning to feed, for all of us, seemed to be such a slow process. In reality it took just under 3 weeks from starting to feed until we were allowed home. It felt a lot longer. I would get so upset that towards the end the only thing that was standing between us and home was establishing feed, a responsibility that I felt lay only with me and it was a goal that we were not reaching quick enough for my liking. Many Mums and one nurse did mention that if we switched to bottle feeding then we would get to go home quicker. But I was determined to breastfeed, after everything that had gone wrong this was one thing that I could still do and I wanted to do it right.
In hospital the babies did make super progress with their feeding, thanks to Anne and Elizabeth, two of the nurses in SCBU. Anne helped Esther to latch on properly and Elizabeth showed me how to use the ‘nurture’ position to get William to open his mouth and feed. This involved placing him to the breast from the tummy in a vertical position, as he would have been placed at birth. This prompts him to suck. It is a natural instinct for babies that they sometimes need reminding of. It certainly worked for young William. He was not latching on properly and so was getting very little milk but lots of air that left him feeling uncomfortable. This new position helped him to get more milk and less discomfort.
Once we were home the madness of feeding frenzies really began. I felt so alone for a long time without the constant company and support of the nurses from the ward. But at the same time it was a complete team effort between David and I as we adjusted to our new life at home.
Nothing can prepare you for the exhaustion that you feel as a breastfeeding Mummy of twins. We had a Twin Co-Sleeper next to our bed and this made feeding so much easier as I could just reach over to get the baby and easily put them back. To start with I slept on the side of the babies but when the sleep deprivation was getting too much, the nights too long and lonely, David offered to sleep on that side of the bed and pass the babies to me. We now both wake through the night but David goes back to sleep while I feed. It has made such a difference to me having his support and knowing that he is there. Night feeding can be very lonely as you try not to stimulate the babies too much by talking to them or making too much eye contact.
After the first few days at home we found that getting into a routine was not going to be possible. All the books recommend waiting till a baby weighs 7lbs before trying for a routine and as William had only just reached 6lbs we still had a way to go. So we were completely baby led at home in the beginning. We still are at 8 months if I am honest. For the most part all they did at the earliest stage was feed and sleep and so patterns did begin to form. But they were not consistent and so we were not too worried about it, we were just trying to enjoy having them home. Now I work my life around them and most of the time I am fine with that but sometimes it really does get me down. I have not been out without Esther and William since they came home. It is beginning to feel like a very long time. We are starting to form a routine now as we head into Esther and William’s 9th month. We get up at 6am and the babies have a breastfeed. They then have breakfast with Daddy and he takes them out for a walk/run until 8.30am when I take over. Both babies have milk again before going to bed at 10.30am. They have more milk before or after lunch at 12.30 and then again mid afternoon. Esther has a solid tea at about 5pm while William has more milk before and after his bath. William wakes every 3 hours through the night and Esther tends to walk just once or twice before we start all over again in the morning.
At the beginning David would bring me breakfast in bed, if we had had a bad night this could be as early as 5am. Breastfeeding two babies on demand leaves you starving. You need to eat as much as you can. I did not change my diet for the babies and as far as I can tell we have all been fine. Typically I will have porridge or cereal for breakfast, crumpets mid morning, soup or sandwich for lunch, crisps and chocolate in the afternoon and a large but healthy dinner such as stir fry or fajitas. I did not even contemplate dieting before 6 months and to be honest now at almost 9 months the weight does seem to be coming off on its own. Our bodies truly are wondrous things and they just seem to know what to do to get us through. They also know what the babies need which I find fascinating.
I have always given Esther and William a breast of their own. Sadly this has led to me being a little lopsided as William now feeds so much more than Esther. One of the plus sides is that when Esther first started to sleep though the night William could relieve the pain I felt when her breast was full to bursting. One of the perks of twins!
Back at the beginning, whenever David had to go out to work he would make sure that I had everything I needed around me. Laptop, book, food, drink etc … That way Esther, William and I could just stay safely snuggled together feeding and sleeping. I used to watch reruns of old telly favourites in those early days, my brain was not able to cope with very much more.
Obviously this could not continue forever and I started to brave being with the babies around the house. I always found it easiest to feed on the bed but I was soon able to do it on the sofa or the floor and now I can be found feeding whilst walking round the house. To begin with I thought it was important to feed both babies together to make best use of our time but after a while it became apparent that they were happier and fed more efficiently if I fed them separately and so this is what I did. I had spent a lot of money on a very expensive, highly recommended, twin feeding cushion but I hardly ever used it. It was easier to arrange cushions and pillows in the required positions until we were all supported and comfortable.
I cannot lie and say that breastfeeding is easy. It is one of the most precious things that I do as a Mother but it is also the one thing that means I get no time at all to be anything apart from a Mummy. When I am tired and grumpy David will remind me that I chose to breastfeed and so really chose to be so tied to the twins. It is a tricky situation; that one of the things that I love the most about being Mum is also the thing that exhausts me the most and can lead to me having difficult times. I do wonder how other women feel. I find breastfeeding very easy. Both babies latch on well and feed efficiently; I have plenty of milk that flows freely. With all of this going for me I still find it hard and so to have any of these things not working as it should it must make breastfeeding nigh on impossible, especially with two. I would encourage Mummy’s to try breastfeeding as it is a wonderful experience and pleasure and the intimacy makes everything else worthwhile. The bond it builds between mother and babies is priceless. I would not swap it for all the spa days in the world!
But there will be days (and/or nights) when you feel like you just can’t carry on. There are two occasions for me that firmly stick in my mind.
The first was a night with Esther and the second an afternoon with Will.
Esther’s night was when she just kept waking up every 45 minutes or so all night. I would put her to the breast where she would suckle and feed but never seemed satisfied. We had literally been up all night and were both exhausted. David kept on pleading with me to give up and let him give her a bottle but I would not do it. I could not bring myself to give up. But as the morning started to make an appearance I knew that I might not have a choice, my tiny daughter just could not seem to settle. I took her down the dark stairs. I boiled a kettle to defrost some frozen milk and I sterilised a bottle. While we waited she carried on sucking and by the time the kettle had boiled she was asleep. That was a long night where David and I were snapping at each other. There have been many nights that have tested our resolve and our relationship. He could not understand the strength of my desire to only breastfeed; perhaps I have never explained it right. This night we came very close to giving up Esther and I, but together we made it through and sleep saved the day for both of us. For us all.
William’s afternoon was a similar situation. He was feeding continually throughout the afternoon but could not be satisfied. I was getting frustrated thinking that I was not good enough, that there was something wrong with my milk. In actuality I think he was growth spurting but I did not really understand. It was a horrible horrible day that made me question the value of breastfeeding and the effort we were all putting in to make it a success. But that evening in the bath William gave me his first ever smile. So all the feeding had paid off in him being able to do something new. That smile really did melt away in an instant all the heartaches and frustrations of the day. I have found that that is often the way, just when things seem really bad the babies will do something to give you all the courage and motivation that you need to soldier on.
In situations like these Facebook and Twitter have saved me as there would always be someone on line to answer my calls of desperation and remind me that I was not alone, that everything would be okay. Which of course it always was but it is hard to remember that in the dead of night when you are alone with a baby, or two, who will not sleep or feed.
Almost 10 months down the line and I am still breastfeeding both Esther and William, and I really do not want to stop, which is fortunate really as William will not take a bottle. We have tried to give him a bottle of expressed milk on a couple of occasions just to see if he would. David would always be the one to give the bottle but I would be in the room feeding Esther. William would resolutely refuse the bottle, if he got milk in his mouth he would spit it out and he would turn his head to look at me as if to say, “Don’t worry, Mummy. I won’t take it. Look he is trying to make me take it but I only want you!” It was really very sweet but of course means that where I go, for any length of time, William goes too!
I do not mind most days being so tied to the twins. I adore them and they are my life now. I love feeding them but at my most tired I know that I get over emotional and irrational and feel that I would benefit from time away. I think that when we have another baby (yes I want another!) we will introduce a bottle much earlier on.
Looking back at the last 9 and a half months I do have some tips and advice to add.
1 – Talk to people, online, on the phone, face to face, it is good to talk, I am sure that it saved my sanity on more than one occasion.
2 – Accept help, something that I did not do and am still not very good at doing but it can make such a difference. You need all your time and energy for feeding get others to feed you, clean your house and do any errands that need doing. People will only be too glad to help so if they offer shout YES!
3 – Accept that breastfeeding takes over your life and plan things around it, I have mastered typing with at least one babe in arms, I am doing it now!
4 – Do not be afraid to feed in public, I have done it on the beach, in shopping centre, in the pub, in a field – anywhere. And never feel unable to feed in your own house, if people come to visit they should accept that this is what is going to happen, do not feel that you have to go off to another room if you do not want to.
5 – Sleep when the babies sleep. This is easier said than done especially when you feel that you should be doing other things but sleep makes everything else so much easier. Likewise at night get to bed as early as you can, do not be like me and think that staying up late to have some ‘me time’ is a good idea, invariably it is not and you will wish you had gone to your bed!
6 – Drink a lot, eat a lot. Breastfeeding twins places demands on your body, demands that are best met by eating and drinking as often as you feel the need. There will be plenty of time to lose weight and shape up once your twins are on the move.
7 – Do not feel the need to spend lots of money on fancy cushions, cushions and pillows will work just as well and in fact I found that they worked better as I could change the arrangement and organisation to suit different times and positions.
8 – Do not get bogged down in baby books. David and I often say that we would be so much happier if instead of reading books we had just focused on learning to read our babies. They do not fit with any routine that we have come across but over time we are finding our own routine that works for us. We should have concentrated on finding that from the start.
9 – Enjoy the intimacy you will be sad when this time has passed. Try to spend some time just watching your baby’s developing habits as they feed. William opens his mouth so wide as soon as he knows he is getting milk now, Esther seemingly squeezes her milk out of me with her hand. She likes to knead my breast as she feds. They both like to take a break from sucking and look at me and smile. William likes to stroke my face to be sure that I am still there. All of these are magical moments shared just between us that I want to remember forever.
10 – If you want or need to introduce a bottle do so early on otherwise they may stubbornly refuse which may make you happy that they are so loyal to you but will mean you cannot drink any alcohol or go out to the gym!
11 – Take photos and soak up the images of this ultimate mother love; you will want to remember these days for always. I know that I do.
This article was originally posted as a guest post at Plus 2.4 but I wanted to share it on Blog Gems as I feel it is the most inspirational post that I have written and I hope that it will help others who want to breastfeed their babies