I was browsing a parenting facebook group recently, as one tends to do when one is a mother on one’s lunch break, and an acquaintance posted the most beautiful photo of herself standing half dressed in front of the mirror, holding her new baby. It made me smile to myself because she looked as I remembered my immediate postpartum period with the girls: the exhaustion, the vulnerability, the pride, it was all there. And so too was the physical remnants from a full-term pregnancy, the body that had not quite ‘pinged’ back in to shape the way that the media would have us believe it should be.

I was proud of the group as they admired this photo, complimented this mother on her bold body-positivity, the beauty of her smile on her tired face, the scrunch of the small one asleep on her shoulder. It made me remember those early weeks when mine were new, how fragile we all seemed – sleep deprivation blurring the outlines between night and day, when they needed to feed so frequently that wearing clothes seemed nonsensical and I once startled our neighbours by leaning innocently out of a window to greet them wearing nothing but a pair of knickers.

When I remember those days, I remember how beautiful I felt standing outside in the sunshine feeding my babies. How powerful and capable and feminine I felt as I watched my toddlers chase each other about the garden and my partner and I loved on the tiny daughters in our arms. I remember closing my eyes in sheer elation, because this was exactly as I was meant to be and I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. After battling postnatal depression with my first set of twins, the ease of the postpartum period with the second was hard won, astonishing and euphoric. There were moments that almost broke me – returning to work sixteen days after the girls were born was one of them – but on the whole? I felt like a goddess.

That is what I remembered, as I admired this relative stranger’s picture and read the comments. It transported me back to a happy place.

Partway down the thread, a comment gave me pause. A woman commented that it was subjective, that she would be unhappy if she hadn’t lost all of her baby weight three weeks after giving birth. All of her baby weight. Unhappy, with a safe and successful birth behind her and a baby in her arms. I wanted to let it go, but I couldn’t. I thought of those vulnerable, emotionally raw new mothers who might be reading the thread, wondering what was wrong with them that they hadn’t lost all of their baby weight, feeling like failures because their babies were a month old, three months old, six months old, one year old and still breastfeeding, still keeping them up in the night, and try though they might they still looked as though horror of horrors, they had gestated a baby. I thought for them, and I hurt for them, and so I responded. Gently. I know from working with wounded animals in the past that if you poke at a fragile creature’s wound, well-meaning or not, it’s not unlikely that they will snap.

She did. She snapped.

My heart hurt for this woman, who told me that she would rather kill herself than be fat, who advised me to go and eat a cookie rather than judge her for her choices. And I hope so much that the baby weight melts away, that she never has to fight her body, loathe the reflection she catches in passing windows. I hope that she always finds it easy.

But as for me? I’m past that.

I have been the child struggling to come to terms with her body, with the fact that she even has a body. And I have been the adolescent with a whole psychiatric team, whose mother searched her bedroom every night, who should probably apologise for the fear that she put her family through. I am no stranger to self-hatred, to wanting to hide away from the world, to change and to not exist.

I’ve been there and I’ve done that and I refuse to go there again. And I have experienced postnatal depression and found myself lacking, I too have gazed at myself in a mirror and barely recognised that woman, have wanted to scream: “Failure, Failure, Failure”. I have found myself transported back to the impotency of childhood by my own sheer inability to control my mood and my life and my body.

Never again. No, thank you.

The hormonal aspect of PND one can’t help. It descends on you like a glass box and I do think that a swift trip to the GP is absolutely the best thing that one can do if one finds oneself feeling a bit wobbly or if somebody else suggests that one might be acting a little odd, but in my experience there is also a self-care element of preventing or fending off unhappiness. You have to like yourself. And if it doesn’t come naturally, then I’m a big fan of faking it until you make it because actually sometimes it works.

I set out to document my body as it changed  with the girls. In part I was driven by curiosity, in part by excitement. I was ready to watch myself expand, to become a world. In part it was fear. Fear that I would struggle to attach to these babies, that the pregnancy would pass as though the babies weren’t mine at all. Fear that my body would change in unwelcome ways, would let me down. And there was hope, too. Hope that it would go ‘right’, that motherhood would be this glorious triumphant blaze with me at the centre, euphoric and incandescent.

And actually all that I learnt was that as with everything else in life, there is no ‘perfect’. And I learnt that if you take a moment to look, you can find the beauty in that too.

Friends, when we take a moment to be kind to ourselves, we show others how to do that too. When we show pride in ourselves, our bodies and our achievements, we give our friends permission to do the same with their own, we show them that they can. And won’t the world be a better place for that positivity?

Join me please. Let’s not tear ourselves down in private or in public, but instead think of ourselves as our friends, and treat ourselves kindly. And who knows where that journey may lead us, or what wonderful adventures in confidence and happiness might result.

Can we be brave?

Twins evoke a reaction.  People sigh wistfully about how they always wanted twins or squeal about how they would LOVE to have twins, or else they feel compelled to tell us how we have our hands full or my favourite: “Rather you than me!”

Everybody knows somebody who has had twins.  Sometimes people think that we might know that somebody even though they live in Glasgow and we live in London because – well – they have twins!  Everybody has a story to tell.

But what is having twins really like?

Twins bring complication.  Twins are five times more likely to die in their first year.  They double the risk of maternal mortality during pregnancy.  Twins increase the risk of caesarean section, of haemorrhage, of gestational diabetes, of postnatal depression.  Twins are often born early.  Twins carry risks.

Twins are chaotic.  One crawls in one direction; one crawls in the other.  One wants to play; one needs to sleep in your arms.  Both want to be fed!  Twins mean double the mess: twins mean twice the nappies, the streaming snotty noses, the dribble.  Twins mean waking up twice as much in the night.

Twins increase your shopping bill by quite a bit.

Twins are two armfulls of baby until they grow and you realise, sadly, that you can only hold one at a time.

Twins are a nightmare to transport unless you master babywearing.  Have you ever tried to get about London with a double pram?  It’s no fun.

Twins mean that your baby always has somebody to laugh at, to play with.  Twins mean a sibling close in age.  Twins mean a friend at school.  Twins mean that your end of life care can be divided amongst your dependents.

Twins mean that there is always somebody to cuddle, especially if they are on alternating nap schedules.  Have you ever laid down on your back and been smothered by masses of baby, all wanting to cuddle?  Twins are double the love.

Mother cuddling twins

Twins mean that you always have somebody of the exact same age to compare your baby against.  If one twin acquires a skill and the other doesn’t immediately mimic it, you start to worry.  Twins mean that you will always have a favourite child.  This is fine so long as each twin is your favourite for approximately the same amount of time each week.

Twins push you to extremes.  Twins will make or break your relationship.  Twins are a baptism of fire into parenthood.

Twins make you wonder what the mothers of singletons do all day, “Don’t they get bored..?”

(That line is Kirsty’s.  I would never get bored.)

Twin mums give each other a special sort of smile as they pass in the street.

If you have ever wanted to be praised for basic life skills, have twins and then leave the house with your hair brushed.

Twins are so much fun to dress.

I suspect that twins are a vastly different experience to parenting one child.  One infant probably feels quite a bit less like raising two thirds of a zoo.

Twins are the adventure that I chose, insisting on having two embryos placed back in my uterus after IVF and signing a disclaimer that stated that I was aware of the ‘risk’.  Twins were worth every risk.

Twins are my reality.  Twins are the challenge that my partner and I conquered together.

Twins made me a mother.  Twins made us a team.

And yes.  I smile cheerily at those insensitive strangers, meddling neighbours and horrified relatives and agree.  Much rather us than them!

Twin babies at the Southbank

Update 18/05/17: Almost two years on from writing this post, and with a new set of baby twins sleeping peacefully upstairs, I find myself reading this post again and agreeing with every sentiment. Million Eyez, a visual social engagement platform where you can easily create & use community-driven photo collections, contacted me to ask me to republish a post that I am proud of, incorporating one of their community-curated Photoboxes. If you too are a twin mum or dad, please go ahead and add your own pictures to this Photobox, and even if you’re not, do explore the website to create Photoboxes of your own.

If you are a blogger, you might be interested to know that Million Eyez are hosting a competition to win an Olympus Pen by creating your own blog post embedding a Photobox, and submitting the details to the Gleam widget below.  Not entirely uncool, no?

million eyez #throughmyeyez Blogger Contest for Olympus PEN Camera

Do you have twins? How has the experience been for you?

Photography can make or break a blog.  Nothing gives you or your readers more insight into you or your lives than a series of well-executed photographs.  On a personal level brands and PRs often remark, when opportunities are afforded to me, that they selected my blog because they had confidence that my photography would show their product or service off both accurately and flatteringly.  If you would like to increase your readership or enhance your blogger/brand collaboration opportunities, perhaps you should take a look at your blog photography and consider whether it is working for you or whether there is room for improvement.

A DSLR camera is a vital component of your blogging tool kit but in order to maximise its effectiveness you also need to be comfortable with its use and au fait with a good editing program.  In this blog post I am going to explain to you precisely why you should shoot in RAW, and walk you through a simple RAW editing workflow.

RAW format is a file type like .GIF or .JPEG.  If you shoot with a Nikon, like I do, your RAW files will be labelled .NEF.  If you shoot with a Canon, the RAW file format is called .CR2.  Some people consider RAW editing to be more complicated and avoid it; twice recently, bloggers have confessed to me that they too shoot in RAW – however, they then become overwhelmed and convert the images to JPEGs before attempting to edit them!  This is WRONG WRONG WRONG when RAW is so easy if you only know how.

Photographers shoot in RAW because it provides greater control over the resulting image.  When you shoot in RAW mode you tell the camera not only to capture the picture as according to your settings but to save any information related to the environment.  This means that you can go back in to the picture and edit features such as the exposure and white balance without losing image quality.  The resulting files are vast in size compared to a JPEG – 10mb to 20mb seems to be the norm – but choosing RAW means that you can be more relaxed about the photography itself because almost any mistake can be corrected.  So long as you get the picture in focus, you have a workable image that can be corrected and improved upon in Photoshop.

You can download Photoshop for less than £10/month so if you haven’t already, go and do that now.  I promise that it’s more than worth the investment.

For the purpose of this demonstration I will be using this image of my partner and one of our little boys, shown straight out of the camera (SOOC) here:

1Before

And walking you through my editing process to make it look like this:

7Final

Looks much better, doesn’t it?  And with my editing process you can achieve this look in under five minutes.

Step One: Open your RAW Image

Open your SOOC RAW image.  You can do this by double-clicking the file, which will open Photoshop.  Photoshop automatically recognises RAW images and will open its internal RAW editing programme.

As far as unedited files go, this SOOC image has a lot going for it.  It was taken about thirty minutes before sunset on a pleasant summer’s day, which is the optimum time for photography, and has lovely creamy backlight, which means that the sun was behind my subjects at the time that the picture was taken.  There is potential in this image.  But it looks a little cold, a little dark, and altogether rather more bland than I remember the scene looking before I put the camera to my eye and pressed the button.  No matter, because in RAW mode we can fix all of that.

Step Two: ‘Warm Up’ the Image

Unless you have trained your eye to see it or you have the same image post-edit to compare then it’s difficult to tell when an image is too cool.  It’s safe to assume however that the typical photograph taken outdoors will need to be ‘warmed up’ a little.

2Before

To warm up the image, adjust the ‘Temperature’ slider to the right, increasing the number.  There is no magic number for this as it varies according to the image, so stop when the image looks warm but before it looks yellow.  The best way to tell this is to find something white in the image.  Before the edit it will look a little blue, and if you go too far with the slider it will start to tinge yellow.  Stop when it is a perfect white.

3Temp

This is my image with the temperature corrected.  Nobody looks like they have hypothermia now.

Step Three: Correct the Exposure

Do you see how this image looks a little dark?  This is because it’s slightly underexposed.  My preference is always to slightly underexpose my images and then fix them in Photoshop rather than waste time adjusting settings when I could be photographing wriggly babies.  It’s a simple fix though.  Take the ‘Exposure’ slider and again, slide it to the right.  If your image is overexposed, with bright white patches where there should be detail, slide to the left instead of the right.

Exposure for an unedited image is always 0.  Again, there is no magic number to fix the exposure, you just have to stop when it looks right.   Ideally you want the image to look clean and light, but not so much so that it is ‘blown’ – that you lose detail on your subjects.
4Exposure

Here I have increased the exposure to +0.50 and the image looks much brighter.  Do you see the improvement?  You might be thinking that it’s a bit dull without any shadows, in which case step four will please you.

Step Four: Add a Curve

5CurveBefore

When you are satisfied with the temperature and exposure of your image, it is time to add a curve to emphasise the light and shadows in the image.  See the icon with the little curve, on the right hand side of the screen?  Click on that and it will take you into the Curves tab.

You’re going to left-click on the line with your mouse and pull the line to make a curve that looks like a sideways ‘S’.  Be careful that you don’t blow the highlights or lose detail from the dark points in the image.

6CurveAfter

This step really brings the image to life.  Experiment with your curve until you’re happy with the level of contrast in the image and then breathe a deep sigh of relief because your first foray into the world of RAW is over and you’ve survived.

Step Five: Export the Image into Photoshop

Click ‘open’ to export your image into Photoshop.  Don’t forget to sharpen the image before you save.

7Final

P.S. If you have found this tutorial useful, or if you enjoy my photography generally, please consider nominating me for a Brilliance in Blogging award under the ‘Photography’ category.  I won last year and I would love to make it through to the finals again.

It’s funny the way that my own childhood seemed to stretch on for a lifetime, year after year after year as I waited to grow up, and yet these babies are becoming children in what seems to be the blink of an eye. Every weekend, they seem changed to me; their vocabularies expanded, skill sets enhanced, more physically confident than the last Sunday upon which I hugged them goodnight, smoothed their hair and promised them and myself that the week would fly. Every Saturday morning they surprise me, I find myself exclaiming over things that, to Kirsty, are old news.

Balthazar, my little Zaza, my Zoo, has become a chatterbox. He introduces himself to perfect strangers – “I Zaza” – and follows on with an introduction to each of his siblings, his mummies, his dog, and a vivid description of his day. Lysander, sweet, funny Sasha, has developed such a sense of humour; he will do anything to make us laugh. He is clever and resourceful, just this week he brought one of his ride-on toys into the house in order to use it like a step to access the fruit bowl. We were horrified to notice one single bite taken from every last piece of fruit! He told us that it was a ‘bit funny’ and when we protested, qualified that it was just a ‘LITTLE bit funny’. We couldn’t argue with that! He’ll be sorry when I replace the apples, pears, plums and bananas with lemons…

As for the girls, Embla is very much ‘the baby’. She is comfortable on all-fours and pulling herself up to stand, joyously conversant in baby babble, and very much Kirsty’s girl. They have always had a special bond and it continues to be strong; she will come to me happily, but is even happier to be handed back to mama! And Olympia, my sweet Polly, is determined not to be a baby at all. She has slept through the night for months, is an unsteady but determined walker, and nothing makes her laugh harder in the world than playing with her brothers. She chases after them constantly, and is delighted when they include her in their games.

We have been tremendously fortunate in the way that our sons have embraced big-brotherhood. There has been little jealousy and so much enthusiasm for their small sisters, not to mention a great deal of patience when it comes to sharing their loved ones, their toys and even their food. They love each other. And the girls love them too. Embla would, I think, make a perfectly happy firstborn baby, but Olympia thrives on spending time with those boys. Everything they do is hilarious, from playing with their train tracks (she likes to sit in the middle and pluck the train off of the line) to jumping on the sofa cushions.

Once upon a time, don’t laugh, I wanted to have just one child. And whilst I think that it would have been perfectly magnificent to have a little Octavia or a Cosmo, and to be able to take that one-and-only about with me far more portably than I manage to wrangle my four-and-a-dog, I cannot help but feel a little glad that fate intervened and gave us twins, and that Kirsty and I looked at our bouncing baby boys and thought what’s one more.

And now we have four children.  Four!  At times I feel as though I am drowning under the weight of responsibility – so many to feed, so many to clothe, to house, to teach their alphabetic and times-tables and right from wrong.  And yet when I think about it in the dark of the night, in the peace and the quiet between Emmy falling asleep and Emmy howling for food, I cannot help but feel that this is It, this is how it is supposed to be, me and her and this gaggle of children and oh, one day, what’s one more.

They are my joy.

Once, before they were born, I worried that I would struggle to love them if they weren’t ‘enough’: if they held separate interests to my own, if they were difficult, if they were different. I worried that I would favour one above the other. Now I know that maternal love is all-encompassing; I know that the difficult ones just make you love them a little bit harder, that the struggles make that moment of connection at the end of a difficult week all the more beautiful, that your babies can turn you inside-out and stretch you into somebody you will hardly recognise. I had no idea that motherhood would transform me into something better, that my own children would be my fairy godmothers. I had no idea how much I needed them until they were here.

They put the magic in my world. And I am so glad for each and every one of them, for this time in our lives. I am so grateful for every sleep-deprived five-am Saturday morning wake-up, for each shrieking chase through the woods, for the laughter, even the tears.

I just want to record these moments forever.  To keep them close forever.

We are so tremendously fortunate to have these people.  Balthazar, Lysander, Embla, Olympia.

Four.

My four.

(And oh, one day, maybe, what’s one more?)

We used to go to Brighton all of the time when I was small. My grandparents were fearless; they would take my sister and I anywhere, in the car or on a plane, for days or weeks at a time. And it just so happened that they lived an hour or so from Brighton, and so we came to know it well. When I think of days out with my grandparents, I think of pink sunglasses taking up half of our faces, pebbled beaches, and that tiny caterpillar ride that went through the apple, that my grandparents placated us was a roller coaster. It’s bittersweet. My grandmother died when I was twenty-two or so; after all of the effort she put in to raising me, she never got to see me as a mother. And my grandfather is so proud of us, and so enchanted by his great-grandchildren, but he lives too far away for day trips now. And I miss them.

About a month or so ago, in a fit of naive optimism during a train ticket sale, I decided that it was high time that my toddlers became acquainted with the seaside. And it seemed perfectly sensible, at that time, to travel there by train. And back. In a day. Without the pram.  What can I say – after five days in the office, I start to think of toddlers as miniature versions of my colleagues.  There are differences, certainly – my colleagues do not follow me to the toilet, for example, arguing over whose turn it is to flush – but the similarities are striking enough, upon occasion, to lull me into a false sense of security that my little ones will behave in the same mostly-predictable ways.

So I bought tickets. They were cheap enough, I rationalised, that should we need to discard our trip at short notice, I wouldn’t mind.

Except then I got attached to the idea and thus, it became A Plan.

Kirsty, love her, has had half of her adolescence and the entirety of her adult life to adapt to me and my wild ideas. She doesn’t try to insert rationality into The Plans any more; she merely makes sure that everybody is wearing sun cream and packs about twice as much food as we will actually need to eat, thus ensuring that if anyone opens their mouth to tantrum, we can cut it short swiftly by stuffing a vegetarian sausage roll in their mouth. And what can I say – it works! Even on me. Especially on me.

So off we went! Two mummies, four babies and a dog, off to Brighton.

Over the course of the day, we took three buses and five trains. And we walked so much that I’m surprised my toddlers’ small legs didn’t wear down to stubs.

Have you ever noticed how much better ice cream tastes by the seaside? I have been trying to figure out why, and I think that it might be the salt in the air. Or perhaps it is just the whole sensory experience that makes it so special: the cacophony of seagulls over the tinkle of fairground music, the sun on your closed eyelids and the crash and collapse of the waves over your feet. Whatever it is, ice cream by the seaside tastes like no other and my sons fell face-first into their cones. Naturally, at least one of them was bound to hit the ground and in this case it was Lysander’s, but a quick switcheroo – mine to him, his scooped from the floor and fed to the dog – soon halted his tears.

We made a little video of our day.  Do give it a watch, and we’d love you to subscribe for more Wilde family films.