Because you will only be two years old once. Because you will only once be just on the cusp of six months old. And because I think that this is the happiest that I have ever been, surrounded by the chaos of you, as though all my life I had been waiting for toys to explode from the kallax and strew themselves across my floors, my cupboards to fill with biscuits because you love them so, my peace and quiet, my autonomy, to be scrunched up in little baby fists and gummed on to a pulp.

Because I never knew that such joy could be found in seeing two small faces squashed up against a window, in seeing a baby crawl toward me and attach herself, limpet-like, to my legs. I never knew that in being your mother I would be able to look around myself at the end of a long day and know, with certainty, that everything I did had a purpose and that purpose is you.

And because I want to capture everything: that tatty reindeer that Lysander insists on carrying around with him, the way that we can’t keep Balthazar off of the kitchen counters. How you each have a favourite mummy (and every time I’ve been surprised by who naturally gravitates to whom), how even the biggest of you manages to tuck up so small in my arms. Because mingled with the joy is the terror that each time could be the last time – because you are changing constantly, because the dog is getting older, because we are all mortal.

Because I want to be in the picture. Because I want to know what my life looks like from the outside; because I want you to know, one day, what your childhood looked like. Because I can’t quite believe that she happened to me, that you happened to us.

Because part of me is afraid that I will never be this happy again, or this fierce again, or this tired again.

This is our day, immortalised. This is what our lives were like when you were two years old, and when you were on the cusp of six months.

Antonina Mamzenko and I had been acquaintances for a little while through a facebook group for documentary-style family photographers, when she reached out to offer me a Day in the Life photoshoot in exchange for a review of the experience and some social media shares. As this kind of thing is right up my street, so to speak, and I was already a fan of her vibrant and honest photography style I couldn’t say yes quickly enough and begged a day out of the office in order to make it happen.

There is only one rule with this kind of photography: it has to be real. That means no waiting for golden hour, so posing for the camera and absolutely no ‘say cheese’. All that you need to do is go about your ordinary ugly-beautiful day and let the magic happen. Antonina documented our day for eleven hours – from the moment that the barking of the dog woke us up (she was knocking on the door outside) to our putting the toddlers to bed she was there, sometimes laughing and joking with us, sometimes in the middle of the scene, and sometimes so quiet that we forgot that she was there at all. With our crazy family dynamic we needed a photographer who would be able to blend in to the background when necessary, who wouldn’t mind suddenly-naked toddlers and copious baby spit-up, who would just laugh when I needed to pause to answer some work emails or the toddlers descended into their typical pre-bedtime tears.

By the time that we waved her off at the end of the day, she felt like an old friend.  And after two weeks of anxiously stalking my inbox, she delivered a breathtaking collection of more than one hundred images faithfully documenting our day.

This is the gift that I would give my best friend.  I definitely plan to have my family and our lives together documented in this style again; I think it would be really interesting to have the same photographer back every couple of years in order to create a collection of photobooks capturing forever our lives as we change and grow.

Dear Embla and Olympia,

This is just a little letter about you recently. I wrote you a letter when you were born and when you turned one week old, and of course I’ve written updates along the way, but I wanted to pull everything together into one soppy letter about who you are, and what you mean to me.

I’m afraid that I’m in the habit of thinking of the two of you collectively, that in my mind children come in pairs, so I hope that you don’t mind that I don’t think of you as my third-and-fourth-borns but my second-borns, in that your brothers were born first in one single birth and then you followed, nearly two years later, the second birth. My second-borns. And I’ve been thinking a lot recently about parenthood for the second time, about how different it is, about how different I am. I think that if I were ever to write a parenting book, the thing that I would want anxious new parents and parents-to-be to take away is this: that the first time around doesn’t have to be perfect, because then you have the second. Motherhood the second time around has been a dream. It’s not that I love you any more than I love your wild-haired, big-hearted brothers, it’s just that this time round, I love myself more. It has been easier. Some of it has been you (thank you for being such easy babies, thank you), a lot of it has been me: that I let go of so many expectations, that I let myself embrace imperfection in a way that I hadn’t with my first babies’ babyhood. Amongst the exhaustion and the anguish that comes with raising baby twins, with working a full-time job, with loving this fiercely, there has been a peculiar kind of bliss. You have made me so happy.

So, six months old. What to say about you? In birth order:

Embla Felicity Minerva. You were named for the first woman in Norse mythology, for good fortune and joy and for wisdom. ‘Embla’ has been a favourite name of mine for so long, little one, and I never thought that your mama would give it to me until she did, days after you were born, when she looked at your fluffy little head and your ears, tufted like a squirrel’s, and the way that you gazed into her eyes like a hypnotist, and she agreed that you looked like an Emmy, like an Em. And then you gained two pounds in rapid succession, caught up with your sister in size, snorted and snuffled as you ate and dribbled milk into the new folds of your neck and you acquired a new nickname, didn’t you, Pig? Oh, Piggy Wigglesworth, I am sorry. I think that the nickname might have dropped if you didn’t grin so wildly when we coo it at you, if you didn’t giggle when Kirsty calls you ‘Wiggles’, if the boys hadn’t picked it up and didn’t, too, call you Pig.

You are so cheerful, so friendly and inquisitive, rarely crying, expressing your displeasure by blowing angry raspberries from the comfort of your mummy’s arms. You are thinking about crawling, it frustrates you that you can’t yet move your limbs in a way that will get you to your toys – especially when you accidentally push them out of arm’s reach. In your ideal world you would be a baby marmoset, you would live on your mummy and stroke her fleecey tops and pay with her yarn as she worked, and you would never be put down – but you are such a good baby, such a sweetheart, you make it so easy to have a baby daughter and a busy family as well. You and she have a special bond, you always have, and it never fails to make me smile when I take you into my arms and you goggle at me, your flirt and you play until, quite suddenly, you decide that you have had enough and you launch yourself very physically in the direction of your mummy. Oh, you funny little girl.

Olympia Leto Beatrix. I still feel a little giddy whenever I write down your full name, I love it so much. You were named for my first love, for horses, for the excitement and anticipation of sitting in the stadium to watch my favourite horse show. You were named for a woman who endured a difficult twin birth, whose daughter helped deliver her son, about whom I thought often when preparing for your birth. You were named for my grandmother, whom I adore and whom you resemble more than we knew when you were born, still a stranger to me. And you were named to be a ‘Polly’. My little Polly.

You are the loudest and fiercest of all of my children. You are uncompromising. It amazes me that such a tiny human can know her own mind so clearly, can show such determination. You wanted the breast and not a bottle, you wanted to sleep down and not in the wrap, you wanted, you wanted, you wanted. You want me. The way that you light up when you see me, the way feed to sleep in my arms, has given me a confidence in my mothering role that I lacked with the boys.

And oh, you make me laugh. You are such a person in that little body. The way that you celebrated turning five months old by hurtling across our living room and flinging yourself, face-first, into your brother’s pizza – the look of horror on his face! And how they shriek when you latch on to them, “No no bite, baby!”, as though you have teeth, the looks on their faces when you steal their toys clean away. And already you have started to pull up on things, to think about standing on two feet like the boys. You, the youngest, you are formidible, you are a force with which to be reckoned. And your smile, your laughter? It brightens up the room.

My girls, I remember a day when you were very small and I cradled you as strangers, barely reconciling the babies you were with the movements you had been inside of me, and I couldn’t even imagine who you would be at three months, at six months, in a year. And then I fell in love with you. I remember holding you so fiercely on the morning that I returned to work, that stepping out of the front door without you felt like a physical blow, that I felt dazed for weeks. I remember sitting on the Underground with my eyes squeezed shut and the tears just seeping out beneath my eyelids and the gaping disconnect between my pragmatic mind and my aching heart and the milk leaking through my dress.

I remember holding you on my lap, eight weeks old and keen to sit up like big girls, and marvelling that you had changed so much in the five short days since I had properly appreciated you – and then remembering that those days represented an eighth of your life and I had just missed it, and vowing to drink you in more greedily in the time that I was home, to commit you to memory, to fill myself with you so that your growth would never come as a surprise again. But it always did. And it always will.

And the milestones hurt me every time, as much as they fill me with pride. My smiling babies, my laughing babies, my babies who can sit, who are thinking of crawling, who are suddenly, inexplicably, on the other side of the room. Six months. How my life has changed. If I could have a wish, I would wish that each stage had lasted longer, that I had enjoyed more of you, that I could have your first day in this world back to appreciate you as my babies rather than as strangers. But those babies are gone. Time has flown. And if I might make a vow for the next six months of your life it will be the same: I will be greedy with you, I will touch you often, revel in your smiles and your laughter and your games. I will document you, I will immortalise you, I will commit you to photography and film and to memory so that the weight of you in my arms will never leave me, so that your baby laughter will never stop ringing in my ears, so that always, always, I will know how it felt to feel your breathing soften and deepen against my chest in the darkness of the night, to wake up to you leering and cackling in my face, to feel bereft whenever my arms are empty of you.

But it doesn’t work like that, does it, my darlings? You will grow, and we will sing to you and blow out candles, and then the babies I know now will be gone.

I love you. Exactly as you are now, and as you will be. I love you.

Thank you for the very best six months.

Your mummy xx

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.