Last year the Siblings Project was one of my favourite monthly round-up linkies. The premise is simple: on a set day of the month (the 15th) I’ll share some recent photographs of all four of my children, with little updates and anecdotes about their siblingly relationship and what they’ve been up to. It’s lovely to have a visual record of what the children looked like on a month-by-month basis and to marry that up with tales of their unfurling bond.

With that in mind, I didn’t post my December Siblings Projects images because I was on a bit of a break at the time, so let me do that now.

And here they are in January. My four cheeky tiddlers. And how far they have come since this time last year, when I announced my pregnancy in the first Siblings Project post of 2016.

The development of an actual relationship between the four of them is actually quite a new thing. Naturally the boys themselves are terrifically bonded to each other. After two years of rarely being apart they are both the best of friends and the worst of enemies, they fight like cat and dog – and they bite! They bite! – but they will also share with each other generously, and recently Lysander stumbled upon the opportunity to hide away with a packet of flying saucers and eat the lot, but gave himself away by bringing a fistful to Balthazar, who was in the kitchen with us at the time: “Here y’are, Zaza, here y’are!”. We melted.

Introducing a second set of twins to our family has certainly changed up the dynamic. I remember holding the girls, an hour or so old, and marvelling at how my baby boys suddenly seemed so BIG, how their hands and feet were like a giant’s hands and feet. And feeling so nervous in case they trod on their sisters, or fell on them, or harmed them in some way. It seemed as though it would be forever before they could interact in a symbiotic way, and yet today they are friends of sorts, they look out for each other. And the boys didn’t break the girls after all.

Our little Olympia has learnt to crawl already and Embla isn’t far behind, and I credit the boys for their motivation to be up and about; all the girls want to do is follow them, to do what they do and to play with their toys. This has evoked mixed reactions from our toddlers: they are at times quite entertained and flattered to receive such attention. Balthazar in particular tends to pause in his play to kiss a small head or two every so often, both are demanding of ‘cuggles’ on a not-infrequent basis. Polly has a soft spot for Lysander – because, ironically, he is the less-invested older brother and not so inclined toward squeezing her! She lights up whenever he glances in her direction.

You know, there was a time, for about the first week or so after the girls were born, when I thought that I was done with having children. Done done done. Done. But the more that I watch our fearsome foursome together, the more it seems that somebody is missing. Olympia, our youngest, has a special nickname, I’ve always called her my end-on-a-high, but I don’t think that she is the ending. We are not yet complete. When I visualise my teenagers in the future, my sons and my daughters sat in our garden arguing into the night long after we have retired to bed, there is another person sat with them: a son or a daughter, only slightly younger, straining their mind in an effort to keep up. And I want that person. I do.

We have two blastocyts frozen from the round in which the girls were conceived and I can’t quite get those tiny balls of cells out of my mind.

Dear Balthazar and Lysander,

So now you are two.  In truth you have been two years old for some time now, for a whole month and a little bit, but I’ll let you in on a secret now that you are old enough to read and for it to no longer matter: on the morning that you turned two, we woke up and decided that we couldn’t face a birthday.  So we very quietly put the presents back in the wardrobe, ate the cake ourselves that evening, and you never knew.  What wicked parents we are!  You had a good day nonetheless, of course, but it didn’t have the pomp and presence of a birthday; there were no candles, the floor remained clean of wrapping paper, nobody sung to you.

You were one year old for three weeks longer than you should have been, and it’s just occured to me now that we finally celebrated your birthday around the time that you likely would have been born had you not been induced.  Your party was not a big affair; we were still sleep-deprived, still exhausted.  But Grandy and Nanny Fish were back from their holidays, your Great-Grandad drove all the way over from Surrey, Auntie Paige and Uncle CJ came to play and you loved the attention, the revelry and the cake.  You were the sweetest little creatures with chocolate icing smeared around your mouths, down your clothes, in your hair.

It has been such a year.  I hope that the benefits of having siblings so close in age outweighs the disadvantages of sharing us with three other demanding, unreasonable, vulnerable small people.  I hope that even on the occasions where you ask to be held and our arms are already full, you still know how very much you mean to us.  You are the little boys who started this crazy, chaotic journey; you made us mothers.  You have taught us so much and you have learned alongside and from us, and I love that you share in – and frequently lead – this adventure.  You are beautiful and wonderful and funny and oh, such a challenge, but a challenge that it has been an honour to embrace alongside you.

This year you have grown and changed so much.  You have transformed from not-quite-babies who knew a word or two to walking, talking tiny people with big feelings and even bigger opinions.  You can name so many objects, concepts and ideas and you light up when you recite the alphabet or count to ten.  I am sorry that I laugh at you when you are face-down and howling with devastation because at seven o’ clock in the morning we refuse to give you the ‘bikkit’ that you have demanded – you are just so sweet and so funny, and listening to you talk is still such a novelty that it does make me giggle.  You constantly amaze me with the things that you know, with your likes and dislikes that are often so different from ours that they could not have been taught.  What incredible children you are.

I have so many hopes for your third year on this planet.  Be healthy, be happy, learn well, love fiercely.  Keep on growing.  Be strong, be safe.  Remember how much you will always mean to us.

With much love,

Mummy x

I wanted not to have to write this until I had my thoughts in order.  But without writing it down I won’t be able to order my thoughts at all, and I think that I want to share it raw – as I am feeling, even though I know that in the grand scheme of things this is nothing at all.  Even though this time round I am still lucky, motherhood is still so much easier and more joyous this time round than my first cold-water plunge into being a parent.  But we have hit a snag.  I am worried and hurting right now.

Breastfeeding was going well for us.  I made a little video recently talking about our decision to breastfeed one twin and to bottle-feed her sister and I was feeling quietly confident in the way that we feed our babies – it is, after all, entirely led by the babies themselves.  Embla has always preferred the bottle, and usually feeds with Kirsty, cuddled up in her arms.  Olympia, my Pocket, my lives-in-my-pocket baby, feeds with me when I am home.  Directly from me.  It is how things are in our household and we enjoy the status quo.

Then earlier this week, Kirsty switched the girls to faster-flow bottles.  It’s just what you do, isn’t it?  Bigger babies mean a faster flow teat.  We didn’t think.  Both girls were happier for it and fed faster and they had more time to play and she had more time to do all of the many things you have to do when you are a busy household of six-humans-and-a-dog.  For a little while it seemed that everyone was winning.

When she started fussing at night I thought that perhaps this was the four-month growth spurt finally in action, or perhaps an early sign of teeth.  But she didn’t grow, not any faster than her sister, and no teeth came through.  And then I came home for the weekend and she doesn’t want me any more, not to feed from me.  She wants her bottle.

If I think about it too hard I feel like I’m being kicked.  I hadn’t meant to breastfeed – this was baby’s idea, not mine – but I’ve grown to love those quiet moments, her little warm body snuggled against mine.  I’m not ready to give that up yet.  I’m not ready.

But I don’t know what to do.

I am so tired of fighting her through the night, of trying to hold her still whilst she arches and screams for her bottle and of encouraging her to latch and to feed when she is protesting fiercely that she doesn’t want me.  It doesn’t feel right.  And I’m exhausted.  But I don’t want to sit awake at night to express any more than I already express, and then to feed her from the bottle.  I don’t want it.  I want things to go back to how they were but I don’t know if we can reverse it, I don’t know how.  And as I said, we have always followed the babies’ leads, Embla takes a bottle because Embla wants the bottle.  Olympia – now she wants the bottle too.

So do I follow her lead?

If we put her back on the slow-flow teats can we teach her to want to feed from the breast again?  And is it fair?

The four months that my daughter gave me felt like a gift and I will always treasure the memories of feeding her so easily, her small soft body tucked against mine.  But my other daughter has shown me that bottle-feeding can be beautiful too, that babies miss out on nothing by feeding from a bottle rather than the breast.  She has shown me that I am sad for myself rather than Olympia, that my girls, like my boys, will be just fine.  But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sting.  And it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to reverse the clock.  I just don’t know.

I’m at a crossroads and I don’t know which path to take.  Please tell me what to do.

A while ago, when I was pregnant enough to show but not so pregnant that babies were an imminent reality, Babymule got in touch to offer me one of their changing bags in exchange for a few pictures on social media and the blog.  They haven’t asked for a review but actually, I’d like to tell you about my bag.  Because my Babymule bag is somehow one of the biggest assets in our arsenal when raising two under four.

I say this as somebody who didn’t have a changing bag with the first two.  Didn’t use one.  Nor did Kirsty.  When you’re wearing two babies you don’t really have room to carry a big bag as well.  That was her reason.  Mine?  I just refused to venture that far from the home with the boys.  Two bottles, two nappies, a packet of wipes stuffed in a carrier bag and I was sorted, that was all I needed for an hour or two of walking the dog.

But now?  Total convert.

This is the bag that came everywhere with me when I was pregnant.  Everywhere.  It’s big enough, and compartmentalised enough, that I could store my flip-babies-are-coming-now supplies (camera, video camera, hospital notes) in one of the pockets just in case by some small miracle I transpired to be one of those women who went into labour and popped them out in an hour, in the office.  Ha.

I liked that I could use one compartment for baby things and another for office things.  And there were still many spare for emergency chocolate etc.  Or a laptop.

It came back to the office with me until Kirsty demanded it.  She has this idea that items sent to the babies should belong with the babies.  She has a point.

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Venturing out of the house with four under two requires an awful lot of luggage: nappies and wipes, changes of clothing, healthy snacks for my ‘big’ two, expressed milk in bottles for the baby who prefers a bottle, more nappies and wipes and changes of clothing (trust me: it’s best this way!), distractions and toys for the bus, whatever random items the toddlers are insistant about bringing.  And that’s without factoring in our own essentials: iPhone and cash and cards and keys, perhaps a jumper in case the weather turns.  The camera, usually.  We don’t just spontaneously dash out of the house any more.  We PLAN.

This bag is a good size for planners.  It’s a good size for a not-small family.

It’s a good sort of bag for someone like me, someone who is prone to spillages and chocolate smears, because the material is that sort with the name that I knew before I was trying to write a review at should-be-asleep o’ clock, the one that easily wipes.  It’s a sensible bag.  It is very clearly a bag designed by a mum.

I’m not sure that it’s the most stylish changing bag, to be honest, but style isn’t really what you want in a changing bag.  It’s attractive enough.  It won’t embarrass you when you’re out.  And it is deeply, deeply practical.

It gets a ‘thumbs up’ from this busy mum.

As I write this post, I am tucked up on my sofa with approximately one half of a set of twins asleep in my lap, the other half of the set of twins grinning at me from her mummy’s lap, and a full set of twins playing with their ‘choo-choo cherayins’ right by our feet. The sleeping baby has become a little table of sorts for my mulled wine, which after over a year of not-drinking has hit me like a sack of potatoes despite being the smallest glass you can imagine, possibly hence my balancing it on a sleeping child above a pale-coloured carpet in the first place.

My to-do list is growing arms and legs and if I don’t tackle it soon it will probably need a name and to be enrolled at school, but my home is warm and cosy and my family – god, my family are adorable. It’s not just the mulled wine talking. We are so lucky.

I have been trying to drink them in, to fill myself up like a camel in the knowledge that the hard months are coming. I won’t lie, the adjustment to having four under two was a tough one, but certain things made it easier: ‘good’ babies, sleep-through-the-night toddlers, the mild weather. Gradually the babies have become less sleepy and more in need of our attention, the boys have hit the ‘terrible twos’, the trees have turned to shades of russet and gold and that welcomed, pleasant breeze is becoming cruel. We rely on getting out and about so very much to keep our sanity and even if we didn’t, the little dog needs her walks. Winter is going to be hard on us this year.

We have been trying to make the most of the local parks, the woodlands, of being able to step outside with relative ease even if it does require shoes and an extra layer or two. This time of year is so beautiful; I want to submerge myself in it like I would a hot bath, to throw leaves and to stomp through leaves and to take beautiful red and orange and yellow photographs of leaves, to catch them in photographs before they dull and fade. I want to chase my toddlers, to run with the dog, to laugh and play. I want to dress the girls up in every silly-outfit-with-ears that my credit card can cope with, to indulge in ridiculous hats, to kiss little cold noses warm again.

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Last month we were sent a Cosatto To and Fro Duo to play with, and it’s been our go-to method of transport ever since. One of the things that we like best about it is that it is suitable from birth, so we don’t have to plan which two of the four will ride in the pram for the whole journey – we can switch it up when we’re out according to their needs at the time. The pram is reversible so that we can keep a watchful eye on the little girls, but our bigger boys can face outward to watch the world as we pass by. No journey is complete without their exclaiming over buses and trucks, lorries and bicycles, cats in doorways and dogs out and about with their people, and other babies – some of whom are usually bigger than they are! With that said, our boys seem to fall asleep within twenty minutes of being out in the pram so we appreciate the one-handed recline that makes it so easy to help them to get comfortable.

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I’m not one to appreciate the logistics – you’d have to ask Kirsty for that – but she tells me in addition to being super cute it’s also easy to wipe clean of the inevitable baby sick and toddler spills. She loves the deep hoods that block out all of the light and facilitates peaceful baby sleep and the adjustable handles that make it comfortable for a shorty like me and for somebody of average height (her) as well.

The freestanding mechanism makes it a little tricky to navigate steps but being able to stand the pushchair up in a corner more than makes up for any inconvenience there, particularly in a tiny house like ours where to be honest, there aren’t that many corners in which to prop a pram. Kirsty tells me that she finds the straps a little tricky to adjust but I haven’t noticed us being held up by a need to fiddle with straps, and as I’m easily the most impatient member of this family, believe me, if they were really inconvenient I’d know all about it.

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In the space of a month the Cosatto To and Fro Duo has become a valuable tool in our parenting arsenal and we can’t quite imagine being without it. Ours is the Pitter Patter pattern, featuring multicoloured raindrops on a blue or green background. The bright, cheerful colours are perfect for our family but if they don’t strike your fancy, you might prefer the red and blue Hotchpotch version with flowers and stars or the muted grey Fjord with its pattern of trees, both available to pre-order now. The Pitter Patter retails for £500 and the newer patterns for £539.95, neither of which is especially unreasonable for a twin pram, particularly not one that can grow with your children like the To and Fro Duo.

It’s going to add a lovely pop of colour to what I suspect might turn out to be a rather cold and bleak winter, and colour always makes everything a bit more cheery, doesn’t it?