Having twins – a father’s perspective

A guest post by IP on the first year of becoming a twin daddy.

img-20140919-wa004Life before twins was relatively simple. I looked after my immediate needs and when I look back I realise I was largely a selfish person. Why my wife and I even planned date nights before having twin girls is a mystery to me. Why do couples without kids need to diarise time to spend with their spouse anyway?! Weekends spent with my wife were blissful and fun times. We had a blank canvas of opportunity…opportunity to do whatever we wanted when we wanted. There were no long-term consequences to our decisions. Saturday mornings were spent lying in bed until whatever time we pleased, and this was largely dependent on what we did the night before. Saturday afternoons were spent walking around markets, going for a hike, and running in the forest.

Then, our twins arrived. We were blissfully unaware of what lay ahead. They were born at 32 weeks, and spent three and a half weeks in the NICU.

I remember the last night of NICU vividly. We were given a room in the hospital with two beds and two cots and for the first time there were NO nurses to assist us. I was petrified! The side wheels had been removed, and I was leaning very much to one side. That first night consisted of feeds every three hours with a helpless little baby on each parent’s lap. Broken sleep totaling three hours at the most forced me to reassess who I was. I cried. I felt weak and helpless. How was I going to be a parent to twin girls with this amount of sleep, I lamented?! I don’t remember going to work the next morning. All I knew was that I was scared, very scared of what lay ahead.

The days and weeks that followed blurred into a haze of routine. Those three-hour feeding cycles were brutal. I assigned myself to bed and bath time routine, and the early 4am shift before showering and going to work. When I look back now I don’t know how we did it, and how we coped, but we did, by God’s grace.

img-20140927-wa002The human body, however, is adaptable if you beat it hard enough. In the same year I was finishing off a business degree, and I had started a new job which involved a lot of travel. The only way I thought to get through it all was to put each task into a box. Fulfilling each task eventually became a habit and coping mechanism, and I subtly sought pleasure in completing all my tasks.

I had many interests before the twins arrived. Hiking, fishing, camping, making beer, and flying model helicopters took up most of my time. Now my life consisted of milk, vomit, changing nappies and sleepless nights. I yearned to have the option of at least deciding for myself what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it! It was tough. I loved these helpless little beings so much, but nothing had prepared me for this. Nothing had stripped me so bare. I realised I existed only for them; none of my needs mattered anymore.

Then there was my wife, the apple of my eye. I was devoted to her before the kids came. Chaos had erupted in our house and I had battened down the hatches and went into survival mode. All the focus was on the children. We were at their beck and call for every whim and need. They not so subtly reminded us of that during mammoth crying sessions in tandem. Nights were long, and it became easy to think evil thoughts and to act a little strangely at times. Sleep deprivation does that to you.

Weekends were now very different.

My wife was facing her own struggles. Being a mother of twins requires an inner strength and tenacity that no one will understand. My hectic work schedule was also not helping matters. A busy travel schedule coupled with finishing off a business degree and trying to be a parent had me thinking I was contributing towards society, providing for my family, and taking care of the kids needs. In all these “unselfish” acts I had become selfish, driven to complete all the tasks that had taken over my life, yet forgetting the most important person in my life, my wife.

I had realised that I was attempting to take care of everyone else’s needs yet failing her as her husband. This is still a very difficult thing to accept with my driven A type personality that likes to get things done and likes to solve the problems of the world and move on. Woman are not created like that. I felt helpless. I was achieving my goals in all aspects of my life and gaining recognition in my work, yet failing my wife. How could this be?

Weekend chores did not get the response from her that I was expecting. I thought all women are pleased when their husbands do housework! Here I was feeding the kids, spending time with them, cleaning the house and trying to add value to the household, yet my wife was lonely. I had not spent time with her. I had not engaged with her like I did before the children had arrived. She was not the centre anymore. I was distracted with all the chores that had to be completed with having twins that constantly demanded a routine of crying, feeding, pooping, and sleep.

I think most men can relate to the above. We work hard for our families, we do the best we can with what we know, but sometimes it is not good enough. We struggle to focus on many things. I know I certainly did. Our families want us, they want our full attention, they want us to notice them, and they want our time. We as men often fail at this. We are responsible for not just our family’s financial needs, but their physical, emotional and spiritual needs as well. It became too easy for me to fulfill the financial need through my hard work, and long hours away from home, but I had failed to see that they needed me more in the other aspects of their life.

As men, we are to put God first, love our spouses second, and then love our children. I had got it wrong, and it showed. We do our families a disservice when we get the above formula wrong. For one, loving our children over loving our wives is a disaster waiting to happen. Our wives came first, and loving them first will allow our children to grow up in a loving and secure home where everyone benefits.

I know I have a lot to learn, and I still fail, but I am aware that the only way my needs will ever be met is if I unselfishly lay my life down for them. There are moments when I realise I have gotten this simple aspect right, and it is in these moments that I realise that I am the most blessed man alive and wouldn’t want it any other way.

When the birth plan doesn’t go according to plan

Just three days before the twins were born.

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant there are so many fantasies that she builds in her head and plans she makes for the arrival of her little one. But it’s an unfortunate reality that many of our birth plans don’t come to light, as our bodies and our babies decide they want to do things a little differently. In my case, my twins were born prematurely at 32 weeks.

I had a very healthy pregnancy. I loved almost every minute of being pregnant, and, besides a minor scare of a blood clot at around ten weeks, I had no other major concerns. I didn’t even have any morning sickness. Pregnancy was this amazing miracle for me, and I was in awe of what was happening inside my body. I loved seeing my belly grow, and I stuck it out proudly. I think there is a certain amount of additional gratitude and wonder that comes when you’ve suffered the heartache of infertility, and finally after a two-year battle you have your miracle babies growing inside you. Nothing is going to stop your good mood, your excitement, your joy at what you are finally experiencing.

It’s funny how we have this perfect idea of how things will happen, but then, well, life happens. Things don’t go according to plan, things don’t happen how you expected them to…

In the days leading up to the birth I was on a mission to get everything ready. I guess you could say I was in the nesting phase – almost like my body knew something I didn’t. I had just finished off working full time and was going to help train my replacement over the next two weeks – she was even going to come to my house so that my big belly and I didn’t have to trek all the way into town. I had at least six more weeks to go before my planned C-section, where the girls would arrive on a calm and peaceful morning, we’d take photos and smile as I held my little miracles on my chest, close to my heart, and both sets of grandparents where going to be waiting excitedly outside the operating theatre.

Well, that never happened. My parents weren’t even in the country. They were in Australia for a holiday. They had planned their dates very carefully, keeping my due date in mind and I had assured my mom that they’d be back in plenty of time to be present when the girls came. It never even crossed my mind that they would potentially come early and my parents wouldn’t be here.

In the early hours of a Tuesday morning my waters broke. I woke up thinking I’d just wet the bed – after all I’d been getting up at least three times a night to pee. I woke IP up and off we went to the hospital. I was in such denial as we drove calmly down the dark, deserted streets. We drove in virtual silence. We think back and laugh now at those moments. We were both totally calm, he wanted to shower before we left, and I said sure, as I wanted to get changed and then we could head to the hospital.

I took my handbag and my iPad along, thinking we’d be home again in a few hours, no hospital bag. It was funny, I had everything prepared for the arrival of the babies – fortunately! And my hospital bag was the only thing I still had to pack – I still wanted to go buy some new pyjamas and slippers, but alas, that never happened.

It was an absolute miracle that IP was even in town that week. He was originally supposed to be on a business trip in Lebanon the first week in September, but just a few weeks before it had been pushed to the following week.

Everything happened rather quickly after we arrived at the hospital. Initial tests showed that the babies were just fine and not in any distress so I was going to stay at the hospital for observation, and until they were born. I was shocked. “What?” I asked the nurse. “I’m staying here till they’re born? How long could that be?” Could be a few hours or a few days, I was informed. I had the injections to help strengthen their lungs. Not long after that I started having contractions and serious labour pains, the girls wanted to come, and they wanted to come now!

After about three hours HJ was engaged and ready to come naturally, but it would have been too risky for AG, as she was breach and there was no guarantee she would turn, and I would likely have had to have a C-section for her anyway. But, there was no anaesthetist to be found for the theatre, so preparations were being made for me to have a vaginal delivery. A second gynae arrived and large open incubators were being wheeled into the room. It was all getting real now. I don’t think I’ve ever been so calm and quiet in my life as I was in that moment lying on the hospital bed. I don’t think I said a word, as activity whirled around me. The worry on my doctor’s face was evident. I had absolutely no control over what was about to happen, all I could do was leave it in God’s hands.

At what felt like the last second an anaesthetist ran into the room and we were rushed into theatre. It felt like we were in a movie, with nurses and doctors and IP all running alongside my bed towards the theatre. Within minutes I was set up and the doctors where working on me, getting the babies out. At 10:55 HJ was born weighing 1,65kg. AG came a minute later weighing 1,52kg. HG let out a wail when she came out and all was well, but when AG came out there was silence. We waited, scared, and then it came, like a little kitten, her tiny screech to let us know that she was here!

After the paed examined them, the babies where both taken to the nicu. I saw them for the briefest seconds when the doctor held them up for me to see, and was not to see them again till a full 24 hours later. There was no touching or holding my girls after they were born, there was no skin-to-skin with mommy, there was no trying to latch straight away. There were no happy photos of mom and dad smiling while holding their miracles in the operating theatre, there was no baby to hold while in recovery.

When the birth of her child doesn’t happen as a woman expected it to, there is a certain loss that she may feel, and a grieving process to endure. Many have said that I should just be glad that they arrived safely and are happy and healthy now – and believe me, I am, absolutely! But, nevertheless, these precious missed moments that any mom might take for granted, and that I never got to experience, are things that I still grieve for today.

(I’ll be sharing more of our birth story and nicu journey in the coming weeks, so watch this space!)