Forty weeks pregnant. I am the moon. The strangers beneath my skin thrash and shift like kittens wrapped in clingfilm and strangers stare at me in horror during my daily commute. My desk in the office, prepared for a handover that should have taken place weeks ago, has reverted to its usual state of chaos and my google search history is full of worry: ‘Twins overdue, experiences.’ ‘Do all women go into labour’? A consultant has a rummage for my cervix and eventually finds it, a recalcitrant apple high and hard. Her face is pursed with worry. I spend whole evenings in the bath, the dinner plate on my belly threatening to capsize with the force of the babies’ kicks. I am the moon. I am tearful, exhausted, euphoric, serene. The world has receeded. Ten days pass, and my waters begin to seep. They are coming.

They are here. They are astonishing. They are Embla and Olympia, 5lbs 10oz and 7lbs 8oz of human, twenty fingers and twenty toes and two hearts beating like birds in a net beneath our palms. I stand in my living room on legs that are still shaking and breathe them in, these small faces, these strangers who grew beneath my skin. And I? My body is inside-out, transformed. They are the moon. I am the tide.

They grow. They are our Very Hungry Caterpillars; they are ferocious in their needs, relentless, piercing our dreams with their high-pitched demands. I curl myself around them; comforted at my breast, they nurse to sleep. I rest my face in their baby hair, tucked neatly beneath my chin.

We are one. They are separate. They are the moon. I am the tide.

They grow.

I? I don’t shrink.

There are changes. My stretchmarks fade quickly from livid pink clawmarks to silvery things, like fish that ripple across my skin. My muscles tighten. Deep within, my uterus, forcefully contracted with syntoconol, continues its efforts, burrowing down into my pelvic cavity. The bleeding stops after three weeks. My breasts are like bags of rocks; they turn to liquid when brushed, when anybody is kind or when my babies cry. They gush according to my babies’ routines; as I rush to attach my breastpump in the office I know that on the other side of London, my partner is feeding my babies my milk. Back against the door in the office bathroom, the rhythmic purr of the electric breastpump almost lulls me to sleep until a knock on the door jolts me back to reality.

I am not myself.

I am the tide.

The reflection in the mirror is a distorted version of me. My finger traces the glass. This is the body that grew two sets of twins in the space of two years. Forty fingers, forty toes, four hearts and four brains. That carried four humans to term, nursed them as well as it was able.

The internet offers me slimming wraps and waist trainers, meal replacement shakes, fad diets and Weight Watchers. Groups on the internet tell me to make time for myself, to follow my babies’ cues, to establish a routine. They tell me not to be selfish, to breastfeed, to allow my partner to give my babies a bottle. They tell me that my babies need the warmth of my skin and my smell to feed safe, they tell me that if my babies sleep in my bed they will surely suffocate, they tell me that if they sleep in their own room nobody will notice as they stop breathing. The media tells me to be yummy. Nothing, nothing, teaches me how to deal with the unrelenting waves of exhaustion, with the coping strategy of pushing my whole sense of self to the back of my mind.

A friend tells me that I do not look as though I have recently given birth. “Thank you,” the words fall from my lips before my exhaustion-addled brain has caught up, before I have had a chance to wonder why ‘you don’t look as though you have recently given birth’ is considered a compliment. My friend is trying to be kind, but her words are untrue. Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, these have been the most psychologically transformative experiences of my adult life. My body reflects that transformation. And is that so wrong..? Back in the mirror, my babies wind their fingers through my hair, they burrow against my skin as though we are one again. The tide, the moon. I am not the shape that I was before they happened to me. I am changed.

Two sets of twins in two years. Forty fingers, forty toes, four hearts, four brains, all of those cells, those follicles, the humans that grew from the blastocysts that the scientists created using my eggs and a stranger’s sperm. Sons. Daughters.  Humans.

I grew those. These people. And my heart, my life – these things are forever transformed. So as for my body?

A vow to myself: I will not pressure myself to be greater than myself. I will not idealise other women and use them as an opportunity to eviscerate myself. I will look in the mirror with fresh eyes.

Trace the stretchmarks again, the crinkled skin. Six months is an awfully short time, and the body remembers, hungers, for the days when it was the moon.  The smile on my face masks the shadows beneath my eyes and when I let myself forgive myself, the joy is overwhelming.  And so is the peace.

Size twelve jeans.  Thighs perfect for chasing toddlers about the garden, a body that housed full-term twins twice. breasts that nourished them, sometimes, and sometimes they did not.

Me.  I am the moon, I am the tide, I am their mother.  And this IS my perfect body.

It made these children of mine.

You were the first. You looked like a plucked parrot when you entered the world, jaundiced and shriveled and with a fuzz of dark hair that stood straight upright unless we smoothed it down. Compared to your brother, a whole pound plumper and robust, you seemed impossibly, shockingly small. Still, you were wondrous to me. So I held you in the crook of just one arm and honestly felt sorry for the mothers with only beautiful babies because you, my little gremlin, you had character.

You grew. You learnt to laugh as we played peekaboo with you, popping out from behind muslin cloths. Your teeth came in slowly, and then crawling became a whole new source of hilarity as you threw yourself about the floor, biting at my feet. Even when you were very small, you preferred to be upside-down, a grin like a half-moon on your face as you dangled from our arms or from the sling. Once, I realised that you had been strangely quiet for all of ten minutes and, much to my horror, realised that you had climbed the ladder and were in the loft. You were not yet one year old. Kirsty stopped letting me watch you whilst working, after that.

You grew some more. More hair, more teeth, you became steady on your feet and liked to walk, to run. You love to dawdle, five metres behind the rest of us because you cannot bear not to stop and look at the cracks in the pavement, the flowers, the way that the light glints off of a window, as your brother resolutely plods on ahead. I call you Dolly, short for Dolly Daydream, because it is virtually impossible to keep your mind on where we are going.

You are just so. damn. proud. of me every time I manage to have a wee on the toilet, but heaven forbid that I should want a turn flushing for myself. Or that I press the ‘stop’ button on a bus, or the button requesting that the cars stop for a green man crossing. You are religious about the sanctity of ‘turns’, but only you and Sasha get to have them. Full stop. And yet you are so polite. I think that you finish every request with ‘please, Mummy’ because you know that it undoes me every time, because you know that I can refuse you nothing when you ask me in that tone of voice as your round owl eyes gaze so imploringly. Yes, child, I will crawl on my hands and knees around this public space so that you may ride on my back. Yes, little boy, if it makes you happy then you shall have it.

All the same, I was not particularly impressed by your whining to ‘Go home PLEASE, Mummy’ all of the way through your first cinema experience. You LOVE that certain pig, and tickets are expensive, you know. But you are a little boy who knows his own mind and all was forgiven when you curled yourself up on my lap like a little cat and I realised that you were unwell.

Oh, Zoo, I love that about you. I spent most of my childhood trying to pretend that I wasn’t trapped in a body and then there is you, so physical, so eager for cuddles and kisses and tickle-fights and to sit on a mama’s back and ride about the garden. You demand to hold your brother’s hand often. You annoy him to the point of tears sometimes with your spontaneous python hugs, the way that you wrap your arms around him and constrict and just don’t. let. go. And the number of times you’ve sent your sisters flying..! And then launched yourself at them, straddling them and squashing them, to kiss their baby heads.

I see that you are on the cusp of big-boyhood now, that at 2.5 years old you’re not a baby any more – you’re not even a toddler, really! And oh, it is so exciting. There is a certain sense of freedom in you and your brother giving up naps, barely needing a pram, listening and understanding and complying so well these days that it’s not scary to take you out alone any more, that we can just get up and go, as far as we would like, on the bus to feed the ducks, on the train to London. We’re not fazed by any of it any more, are we, Zoo? And my heart leaps and swells every time you master a new concept, every time your understanding of the world deepens and grows.

But I wish that I could keep you right here at 2.5 a little longer, because this age is magnificent. I want to savour you right here, right now, ten steps behind me on the path and muttering to yourself, throwing away other people’s litter, protesting fiercely at the threat that I might rain down that pink blossom upon you for a photo. And when you stop dead and demand to be carried, because your little legs just can’t quite manage that final five minutes home, I hope that I will treat you gently rather than scold you, that I will remember that before long you will be three years old, you will be five, you will no longer sit so snugly against my hip, fit so neatly into my arms. Because some afternoons, the scent of your small head and the feeling of your sticky mouth against my cheek is everything.

Firstborn. My Balthazar, my Zaza, my Zoo.

In these images, Zoo is wearing the Muddy Puddles Pac-a-Mac, which is part of their new collaboration with The Bright Company. It is incredibly lightweight – definitely not for use as a replacement for a coat, but perfect for those late Spring days where rain is almost inevitable if you forget your umbrella, in which case it would be dead handy to have one of these stuffed in your handbag. Much to my consternation, I’m finding that Zoo and Sasha are suddenly outgrowing many of the brands and prints that I loved so much on them a year ago, so the sort of style favoured by The Bright Company in particular really appeals to me – it’s colourful enough to be lively without seeming babyish, the patterns are interesting, he’s not infantilised by a jacket like this one but nor has it aged him… he’s still just a little boy out in a raincoat, making the most of the sun on his face and the extended afternoons of play.

I have a WHOLE new post to write about coming to terms with updating the boys’ wardrobe.  Brace yourselves!

How are you dressing your two-year-olds?  I’d love to know what brands you favour.

Many thanks to Muddy Puddles for the jacket, which was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

If you have followed my blog – or indeed my instagram – for a while you may have noticed that the wardrobe belonging to my children is vastly superior in both quality and quantity to that of their mamas. This is motivated in part by a genuine love of children’s clothing – it is so tiny and so sweet! – and in part by a fervent believe that children, even the most darling of children (and mine are), are approximately 20% more loveable when dressed in a pleasing fashion. Ergo, dressing them well is as much for their benefit as mine. Not only that, but as there are four of them and two of us and they all benefit from their communal wardrobe (the small twins will inherit from the bigger twins, after all) investing in toddler clothing is actually super value for money.

That is what I keep telling Kirsty, anyway.

It can be hard to find a balance between what my heart thinks it ‘needs’ and our family finances can take, especially with more than the average number of children and only one of us working. Here are a few things that I’ve been doing recently to enhance my wee ones’ wardrobe without straining the credit card:

Finding people on Instagram whose style I love, and then buying their outgrown clothes. Bear with me, because I know that this sounds a little odd and it does feel super awkward at first. But let’s face it, children grow so quickly that they barely wear their outfits anyway and most parents will bite your hand off to be able to sell their little one’s outgrown wardrobe in bulk without worrying about advertising on facebook groups etc (though I do buy from those too). I’m very lucky that Wishes and Wellies and Tigerlilly Quinn both have a boy who is a little older than my boys, a girl who is a little older than my girls, and are generous enough to sell me their sprogs’ outgrown stuff at a fraction of what it would cost to buy it new.

If you’re too shy to approach people directly, try facebook groups for your secondhand baby clothes. There is a group for every style. I am a huge fan of the Love for the Scandi and Love for the Non-Scandi groups, as well as this one for Mini Rodini and its ilk.

You can wait for the sales and buy ahead, although I wouldn’t recommend doing this on a credit card – the interest rates mean that by the time you roll around to the season in which your offspring will be wearing the thing, you may as well have paid full-price. Otherwise, this is a great way to get a stylish wardrobe for half the price.

If you buy gender-neutral, you can pass down outgrown clothes from your older to younger regardless of their sexes. We do a lot of this, and I’m super excited for the girls to wear much of the boys’ bright, fun wardrobe.

We very rarely pay full-price for clothes… we simply cannot afford to. Mostly these days we shop the sales, use codes, convince our friends to sell to us and sometimes, when I am very lucky, Kirsty will make something beautiful for them to wear. My absolute favourite outfits to put them in are those lovingly knitted or crocheted by their mama (although I mustn’t lie, the Mini Rodini or Frugi comes pretty close as well!).

That said, when we do pay full price for clothes we try to invest that money into purchasing from brands or people from whom that purchase might make a real, tangible difference. Lamb and Bear is one of my favourite brands, with leggings and dribble bibs designed by a real mum like me, my friend Alex, and they are available to purchase via her own shop or through my other friend Hannah’s new online store, Apples and Pips. Hannah also sells The Bunting Tree t-shirts, which I keep meaning to buy and haven’t yet got round to doing! Or I tend to hit up my friend Jenny from KyNa Boutique for my Maxomorra or Mini Rodini, because I know how much love goes into that little online store of hers and she gets me my orders super quick. Alternatively, my accounts assistant at work, Ieasha, sells adorable hairbows and flower crowns in her instagram store, Pixieboo London. The girls are FINALLY growing enough hair to jam a bow or two in it and I am determined to do so, gender-neutrality be damned (to be fair, I’d probably put my boys in them too!).

So that is how we save money when developing our wee ones’ wardrobe, and how we splurge when the occasion calls for it as well!  It’s good to find a balance.   I’d love to know your top tips for expanding a small-human wardrobe and if you’re a clothing brand, feel free to link up in the comments.

Now that the girls have passed six months old we are beginning to embark on the task of weaning them from milk on to solid food.  When the boys were small we approached this a bit like a military operation, introducing one food per week or so and meticulously documenting their reactions.  Those of you that have followed the blog for a while will probably recall that our preferred method of weaning the boys involved baby-led weaning, and we used to strip the boys down to their nappies and sit them, facing each other, in a plastic crate to contain the mess.  We thought that we were very clever because it meant that most of the food they threw about was safely contained, and we could carry the whole lot to the bathtub and sluice them down after their meal.

This time, we are practicing what I call toddler-led and dog-supported weaning.  The girls eat whatever they can swipe off of the boys’ plates, else whatever the boys hand to them when we’re not looking, as quickly as they can lest the dog take it off of them!  In fact, Olympia actually learnt to crawl when she spied her brother’s slice of pizza and somehow figured out how to cross the room in order to take it.  She was five months old at the time and we took it straight back off of her, in part because her brother was devastated to lose his coveted treat but also because the World Health Organisation recommends waiting until six months to wean.

The best thing about a second baby, or in my case babies, is how much more relaxed everything feels.  We don’t hover anxiously lest they choke – although we do of course keep half an eye – and we’re not especially fussed as to whether they’re eating ‘enough’; we just hand them big chunks of fruit or veg, or a strip of toast, and let them get on with it.  And they have taken to it like little ducklings to water – or more accurately, like pihranas, destroying anything edible in their path.

The other morning I glanced up from the laptop to see Balthazar perched like a tiny king between an adoring baby Olympia and Josephine-dog, dividing his Pom Bears into thirds.  It is wonderful to observe the girls exploring food as something that they can use to connect to their brothers, and the boys are (mostly) intrigued that they are able to eat the same things as they are.

Some of their favourite foods thus far include the following: pesto pasta, avocado, cucumber, roasted root vegetables (I just drizzle them in olive oil and roast them until they’re squishy), kiwi, strawberries and toast.  Like their older brothers, the girls will be raised to be vegetarian, so we don’t plan to introduce meat to their diet at all.  With the exception of a Doggy Dentastix that the boys once stole from the dog – urgh! – the boys have never eaten an animal product in their lives and they are so healthy and happy and bright, so we feel really confident in embracing the same approach with the girls.  Instead, they will get their protein from nuts and beans and legumes, and – until my creeping sense of guilt gets the better of me – from eggs and dairy.

It is all going well so far.  We haven’t had much gagging and only one episode of proper choking where Embla needed some help to clear her airway.  And although it is bittersweet to observe how our babies are growing up, being able to share social eating with them is such an exciting new adventure.

What shall I try them on next?

Once upon a time, a woman sat in her new boss’s office and she told him that she was pregnant, that she was expecting twins that summer, and she braced herself for displeasure and unease and she tried to prepare herself to be edged out of the door, because she was only three weeks into the new job and still in probation, and who really wants to take a chance on a personal assistant with a high-risk pregnancy. She spoke the words in a voice that trembled a little, because the pregnancy had been dearly fought and paid for, but her family needed her to be in work more than it needed two new additions, because if she lost this job she knew that she would also have to lose the pregnancy. And she loved these babies already.

And he told her that he was happy for her. And it was as if he had lifted a sack of bricks from her shoulders. The next breath she took was the deepest breath she had taken in weeks.

I learnt a valuable lesson that day. I learnt that if you want to guarantee employee loyalty, take a chance on somebody a little less employable. Offer them your hand.

When my first set of twins were born, I took maternity leave from thirty-six weeks and returned to work after three months. With the girls, I was escorted out of the office twelve hours after my waters broke and came back when they were sixteen days old. As somebody who had been with the company for a mere seven months, who still had so much to learn, who had been too baby-befuddled, too anaemic and exhausted, to give it my all for all of the time, it felt important not to take too much of a break from the office. I wanted to be there. My return to the office was my decision and I will always stand by it being the best thing for me, for my career and ultimately for my family.

It still felt like a plunge in to icy water. It felt like being held there, kicking, until my lungs and my heart screamed.

My memories of those first few weeks are, in retrospect, fuzzy. I can’t tell you how much I screwed up even as I tried to pour myself back into it, how much my colleagues must have strained to show patience and kindness as I tried my best but ultimately couldn’t quite keep up. And they were kind, and patient. They held me upright and kept me going and they put their faith in me, as they always have. I am so grateful for that.

But at the same time, there I was in the office seventeen days after the birth, leaking through my dresses, bleeding for weeks, psychologically concussed from the birth experience. That was hard. Really hard. And if I step outside of myself and I think about that woman, standing on the train during her commute with her legs shaking and her smile fixed in place, I feel so sorry for her. She was a mess. But sometimes these things have to be done.

Last year, before the twins were born, I took on a brand ambassadorship with Medela as a Medela Mum. I thought at the time that when I came to write my review it would be about the feeding relationship with our babies as a two-mum family. I thought that I would write about expressing so that Kirsty could give them bottles, so that Kirsty could feed them my breastmilk using the supplemental nursing system. And I did that, and she did feed them with bottles and with the SNS.

But actually, my relationship with my breastpump ran deeper than that. Much to my astonishment, I fell in love with breastfeeding. I fell hard.

Breastfeeding the boys was never easy. Breastfeeding meant a hospital stay with Balthazar, the indignity and humiliation of it never quite working, of being hooked up almost constantly to the breastpump, of fighting with my body to produce enough, enough, enough and of watching, physically constrained to the machine, as Kirsty held the boys close and fed them from a bottle. I didn’t want any of that again, but I wanted the girls to have the best and breastmilk seemed best for them, and so I signed up to be a Medela ambassador as a mother who wouldn’t breastfeed but would pump, and whose babies would drink her milk from a bottle. That was the plan.

Then I had two babies and one was satisfied with a bottle in her mummy’s arms and a snuggle in the wrap, and one was Polly, who wanted boob, boob, boob, to feed for nourishment, to feed for comfort, to feed to sleep. Polly, who slept every night still latched on to my nipple, who raged when I returned to work but was a different baby entirely at the weekend. Polly, who needed me. Me. And my Medela breastpump became about more than just nourishment. It became about me and her and a bond that relied on maintaining an adequate supply.

Medela sent a massive parcel of goodies when we first agreed the ambassadorship – a Harmony handpump, the Freestyle electric breastpump, nursing pads and freezer bags and oh, other things too, but we promptly lost the other things because we are that sort of family. This is a story but it’s also a review, so I’ll get the boring bit over with quickly so that we can get back to the story: the freezer bags were used to store colostrum expressed before the birth, which the girls devoured in the first couple of days. We didn’t replace them because I was never the sort of mother to have an enormous stash of milk. The breastpads are still floating about somewhere; I mostly relied on dark clothes, long hair and colleagues who knew when to glance away.

When I started disappearing to express during the day, my colleagues gave my trips a little pet name: “Visiting the farm.” We laughed about it. They covered for me when I was away. When I accidentally dropped 8oz of breastmilk down the loo whilst dancing jubilantly with the bottle, I cried first at my colleagues, then at my partner, and then at the internet as a whole. I used the handheld Harmony for trips to the farm and expressed one breast at a time, because whilst my office would have honoured the legal obligation to provide a private place to express, I didn’t fancy using one of the glass-panelled rooms and opted instead for the bathroom. It took twice as long, but it worked.

After a while I developed a little system with the electric Freestyle. Don’t laugh. I chopped holes in a sports bra for hands-free expressing, hooked myself up, popped the machine in my bag and used my hours’ commute each way as a chance to increase my supply. You can laugh. Imagine me, shaped strangely under a big coat, loudly vibrating on a bus, a train and the Underground. But when you work long hours and you have two babies to feed, you have to do odd things. It worked. I had other tricks with that Freestyle too – a way to lay on my side with the bottles dangling off of the bed so that I could express in my sleep. It wasn’t a deep sleep, granted, but my goodness, it felt good to be able to shut my eyes knowing that when I opened them again, those bottles would be heavy.

I feel proud that Olympia and Embla drink my milk, even if they have had formula at times. When I see those bottles lined up in the fridge, I smile. At the moment, Polly is going through a greedy-baby phase where she too prefers expressed milk in a bottle to the breast; it’s less effort, I guess. My supply is suffering for it and I’m not sure whether this means the end of the road of whether it’s something from which we can recover. But they are almost eight months old and we are well into weaning, which relieves some of the pressure.

Before I became a mother, I imagined that I would have the traditional breastfeeding relationship with my children.  And after I had my first set of twins, I imagined that feeding future babies would involve formula all the way.  But this?  This has been a beautiful, unimaginable journey.  And Medela has played a big part in that.