Some parents may be in a position to have planned exactly how they will parent their children before they are even born. Others, like me, assumed it would just be whatever it would be and all would work out fine. When the reality hits and you can’t even work out whether it’s morning or night, you may wish you had a more solid idea of what your parenting journey will involve. Here are some of the best lessons I wish I’d known sooner when becoming a parent first time round and then to twins.
Lessons From Labour
Until my parenting journey started, I assumed that parenting was pretty much the same for everyone. I assumed parents love, and that love is enough. I imagined that I would have some help in what to do when the giggling baby landed on my lap. I thought the crying would be unbearable. I assumed I would not produce enough breastmilk so just thought breastfeeding would be out of the question.
Most of my assumptions were wildly wrong. In the middle of labour, I got scared and put myself in a silly situation (inviting my narcissistic Mum to the labour – totally insane moment in my life!). She caused my anxiety to take over by telling me my pain was not normal. I ended up hyperventilating with every contraction – which were coming every few seconds. In hindsight, the pain at the stage she said those words were totally in my control. However, when you’re having a premature baby and someone tells you that the situation is ‘not normal’, most mothers will panic! The anxiety sent my body into totally unmanageable pain. I thought my body was going to suffocate me to death, right there in the hospital. My medical team had also been silenced by my Mum’s unkind words about not loving her future grandchild, so they were not telling me anything about what was happening next. Medics didn’t even seem to understand that it was out of my control. When they decided to step in with forceps, they were saying ‘just relax now, you don’t need to push until we’re in threatre’. I couldn’t even catch my breath to tell them my body had been taken over by aliens… Real life aliens, they were genuinely moving my body… (!)
This was the first event that happened to make me realise motherhood was not something totally in our control. In hindsight I could have had more control over the whole situation with education, research, speaking to others with experience, asking for help, not inviting a narcissist into the hospital, etc. These lessons continue to apply now my children are all here with me.
Just to add, I did learn my lessons and my second birth with the twins was like paradise. Even when the spinal injection hit a nerve and caused strong pain, I remained calm just trusting the midwives around me. One of the midwives was the same one I had first time round and she was a completely different person without my Mum present. I realise now that I am a different person when my Mum is not around, which can hugely impact on the people around me, including my children. She talked with me, listened to me, encouraged me, and was right there with me supporting me through it all. Quite far into the c-section, I told her we’d met before “I didn’t want to say anything as you meet lots of people. I know you’ll remember me because of my Mum…”. She said no and looked puzzled. I explained how “my Mum was the one who insisted she wouldn’t love her grandchild…”. She said she did remember now. I told her I hadn’t heard from my Mum in several weeks following an argument but that it was a challenging relationship anyway. Some tears rolled down the midwife’s cheek. That was another stepping stone to realising I did not have to continue a relationship with a toxic parent.
Here is a summary of top parenting tips I wish I’d known with hindsight on my side.
- Look at hypnobirthing.
- Go to the prenatal training sessions.
- Know that midwives are highly likely to be passionate about their role so look to them for support.
- Only bring the calmest and best people in your life to your labour – it massively helps when times get tougher.
- You do not have to have family in yours and your kid’s lives if they are toxic, no matter what their title is.
Lessons from Breastfeeding
Formula was forced on my daughter for her first feed, with the midwife saying I had to make a decision right now as her blood sugar was going low. She was unable to breastfeed due to all the pain relief and forceps, as well as being premature. I knew nothing about alternative options to breastfeeding. For example I could have asked to try and pump quickly, or ask for a senior lactation expert to help with the act of breastfeeding.
When I had the twins, I knew 100% my twins would not need formula as I was still breastfeeding my eldest. Sadly, formula was given to my twin in intensive care against my knowledge. I was passing pumped milk to the nurses and occasionally they were not realising it was pumped for my other baby in NICU. They were storing it in the fridge for my breastfeeding son!! I only discovered this when they mentioned they did not have enough milk – 2 days later. I was furious as nobody had a single conversation with me about this and I would have easily pumped more if they had let me know. Lessons for going forward were not to assume people are doing what you think, medically or otherwise. They are employees who do not necessarily understand that you have babies in different parts of the hospital (if you’re lucky enough to have multiples).
Lessons I wish I’d known sooner about breastfeeding:
- You do not only have the choice of breastfeeding or formula. If you need to supplement – look into donor milk. Pumping using hospital equipment on maximum settings, for me, was very quick. This could have been another option to try first.
- If you have a baby in NICU, make sure someone is there most of the time so that they can keep you updated on any needs, such as ‘more milk please Mummy!’. If you have no one available to be there, make sure it is very clearly explained to the medical team that every decision is communicated to you.
- Breastfeeding is challenging physically, emotionally and mentally in the first few weeks (see my post about nursing a newborn). It does get easier, and in the longer term it is invaluable too. See my blog post about longer term nursing.
- Breastfeeding whilst pregnant with twins is absolutely possible. Triandem feeding is also useful for helping your eldest bond and feel connected to you. See my previous post about tandem and triandem breastfeeding. Sometimes you just need to know someone else has done it to get the motivation to try it yourself. I’m one of the ones who is succeeding with triandem feeding 🙂
- Feeding on demand does not mean only feeding when the baby demands it. You can also feed them if it suits you better now. If you’re planning to go out on a trip, you can feed now before leaving rather than waiting for them to demand it on the journey.
- A baby’s feeding on demand schedule can be significantly more times than you had read or been told. At hospital and online everywhere implies they feed around every 3-4 hours. The truth is they can feed almost constantly at times, and that is totally normal too.
- You can do it even if you have type 1 diabetes. There seems to be some views by some medics that it can throw your diabetes control off. Actually, if you’re used to controlling your diabetes from pregnancy, this is no different. If you’re struggling with hypos, ask your hospital team about a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help keep you safe.
Discovering Gentle Parenting
I only discovered the parenting type ‘Gentle Parenting’ shortly after falling pregnant with twins. This parenting style is also known as ‘Responsive Parenting’, ‘Respectful Parenting’, ‘Attachment Parenting’ and ‘Conscious Parenting’. The themes of gentle parenting suit our family needs and wants perfectly. If I had known there was a specific group of people following a similar parenting style and recommendations, it may have made life in the early days of having my first baby far easier. I may have felt supported through breastfeeding challenges. I also may have not made a couple of early mistakes with my daughter from simply not knowing what gentle options were available in certain situations. I am so grateful I did discover gentle parenting early on our parenting journey. It has been the biggest discovery to change my parenting choices – and most definitely for the better.
Things I wish I’d looked at earlier in my parenting journey:
- Consider what aims you have for raising your children – see my previous blog post about gentle parenting aims.
- Research parenting styles before having children or as soon as possible after to find a style that matches your family’s aims.
- Find a local support group to help with like-minded recommendations when parenting gets tough.
Lessons On Becoming a Mum of Twins / Multiples / 3 Babies Under the Age of 2
I fell pregnant with spontaneous twins when our daughter was only 1 year old. I was so anxious about the idea of having 3 babies so close together in age. I had found parenting my daughter a pleasure, but having 2 more and only my working husband as a local support network naturally made me worry. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed 3 babies. I imagined the crying would be insane. I feared I would have such little sleep that they’d have to cry it which didn’t sit right with my parenting ideals. The anxiety was like something I have never experienced before, it made me feel physically ill. I also was aware that being anxious whilst pregnant is not recommended as your babies feel it… which only amplified my feelings more. I wish the mother I am now could have been there to tell me:
- All will be OK.
- All will definitely be OK.
- It may even be better than your expectations allow you to believe.
- There are plenty of times where it is totally adorable.
- You can do it.
- You can even tandem or triandem breastfeed, and continue being a gentle parent if you choose…
- But you may find you have a lot of self healing to go through with the extra stresses of 3 babies so close together in age. See my earlier post about healing from your own childhood traumas. You can absolutely do this healing too.
- Don’t listen to anyone (medics included) on what “you can’t do” as a parent without researching it yourself first. You can do whatever is right for your family and in your willpower. Maybe some things won’t be done perfectly… maybe the washing won’t be done and a baby will not have a clean nappy quick enough… but the most important things will definitely be possible if you put your mind to it.
The Ultimate Parenting Lesson
What do the chalk boards in the photos of this blog post mean? To me, your board is created from your own childhood as a basis for your parenting journey. This is the backbone and a major reason why you make the choices you are making (whether that be following gut reactions without considering it further, or whether doing the opposite of how you were raised because it hurt you – see my post about my own mother). However, your parenting lessons start blank, so to speak. You can choose to fill your learning board with wonderful lessons and enjoy your personal and child’s growth to come. Or you can follow another person’s lesson plan and possibly get lost along the way. I feel it’s important to use other parents and teachers as guides to help direct my research, but I don’t follow their advice blindly. Follow your own parenting instincts as they will help you lead your children in the best way for your family.