Stockport Dad, Alex, talks to us about IVF, having twins and shared parental leave.
My partner, Jenny, and I had twin girls in October through IVF. I took a month off when they were born (paternity plus annual leave) and as I write I am coming to the end of a five-month stint of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). As the girls hit the six-month mark and I start to think about going back to work, my overwhelming sense is just feeling incredibly lucky to have had the time with them.
After a year of unsuccessful trying, IVF happened quite quickly for us. First came the tests. Although it was more than a bit weird, providing a sample is a lot less intrusive than what Jenny had to do (bloods etc.). Then within a few weeks we had our first transfer date; Jenny’s hormone conditions weren’t right that first time, so there was a slight delay, but we managed to sneak in before lockdown hit and services closed. Luckily, it was a success. And at an early scan (to investigate bleeding, which is quite common), within two seconds on the wand hitting Jenny’s bump the sonographer said, “it’s twins!”. I nearly feel off my chair, and Jenny out of her stirrups. But in hindsight, we shouldn’t have been too surprised; the embryologist had transferred two fertilised eggs to increase the chances of success and I had joked that having twins would be a doddle (two for price of one etc… careful what you wish for!)
The months that followed were not so easy. Jenny was debilitated with sickness (morning and night). Perhaps the most frustrating part of that period was that she’d only eat one thing; so, it was fried egg sarnies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had a go at giving up booze in solidarity with Jenny, but that didn’t last very long once the sun came out. There were no hard feelings (she said she wouldn’t have even thought about it if the shoe was on the other foot). Pregnancy seemed to drag on forever and the closer it got, the more time seemed to drag. This was amplified by the slow trudge of lockdown, and especially because we used the time at home to prepare the house for their arrival. One day I hang a horrible pang of discomfort seeing two baby dressing gowns hanging on the bathroom door, but the babies were still nowhere to be seen—where TF were they!?
When it came, labour also seemed to inch along at a snail’s pace. For three days Jenny was in hospital in early labour with quite a bit of pain, and I was only allowed in 8am-8pm. Two of the nights I sat in the carpark for hours in anticipation of the imminent arrival. Things sped up considerably when the consultant recommended a C-section. Within an hour we were in theatre. The C-section was a whirl of organised chaos, something like a scrum in rugby: everyone knows they’re job, but that doesn’t make it any less intense and frenetic. I tried to zone out the 30-odd nurses and doctors in there (with twins, there’s twice as many heads) and focus on Jenny and a particularly reassuring anaesthetist. Within 30 minutes I was taken over to a cot to meet a tiny baby daughter, then a couple minutes later, another. I was breathless and beaming, so much so I made a total hash of cutting the cords. One of the twins was having some trouble breathing (liquid on the lungs, again common, especially with C-section twins), but I felt weirdly assured that—even if she needed to go to NICU—it was going to be okay; they were here, after everything, and I instantly had the sense they were going to be with us forever.
In those first weeks, we were in crisis mode. We were suddenly tasked with two lives and facing a brand-new challenge seemingly every five minutes. We were barely sleeping and pretty frazzled. That boiled over into a couple of bust-ups, but of course that pretty counterproductive and so we eventually learned to work together, tagging in and out to manage stress and tiredness levels. We realised we each had our strengths and weaknesses (Jenny was an expert in soothing and I quickly became a “wind specialist”). Lockdown meant we could only have a couple of visitors, but that was actually a huge relief. It was just the four of us, we could just be together, and we found a lot of joy in that simplicity.
The six weeks when I went back to work feels like a sleepless blur from this vantage point. I finished work and started SPL in mid-Jan when Jenny returned to uni. She has been around a lot, but especially when she has assignments, I’ve been more like the primary carer. This has been terrifying and hugely gratifying at different times. I used a couple of resources—Dad Matter’s “Dad Pad” was great, and I’ve dipped into Emily Oster’s books, the “Day by Day baby book” and a Great Courses audiobook by Peter Vishton—but most of my skills, such as they are, I’ve learned “on the job”. This has been made much easier because the twins are relatively low maintenance and, mercifully, they started sleeping for long chunks from about 3 months.
I don’t know any other blokes doing SPL and while the mothers at the various support and play groups I’ve been to are very welcoming, I am in a bit of a different situation (no breast-feeding here) and have felt something of an outsider. I think this might have been more of an issue if the last year hadn’t been such a weird one for everyone (it’s not exactly been the most social of years for anyone has it). I know some new parents worry about losing their sense of themselves; maybe it’s the fact that I became a dad in the middle of lockdown, but I have been surprised that there’s more continuity than change in how I see myself (for better or worse!). I’ve tried to find ways to balance baby-stuff with my own interests; for example, the babies and I have an agreement that we rotate between listening to nursery rhymes and my music/podcasts (they like the upbeat music, the dry podcasts less so).
Twins is certainly a particular challenge. If looking after one baby is learning to do things with one hand, looking after two is learning how to do stuff with no hands! What I hadn’t quite processed before they arrived is that with twins you need to do things twice (I know, it’s kind of in the name). But you have to do everything twice: two nappies, two feeds, two sets of nails to cut, two babies’ development to worry about, and on and on. It can be pretty relentless but, especially as the kids have developed, it’s become really rewarding and having to be silly and playful all day has made me happier and more light-hearted. Of course, it’s very easy to be silly for five minutes, but I’ve found it really hard to fill a full day with stimulating activities, especially as they become more alert and are awake more of the day. I’ve found BBC Tiny Happy People and resources like that useful. But after a day of p*ss-poor singalong attempts, by mid-afternoon I am often pretty lost.
It’s a constant flurry of practical challenges and I’m slowly coming to realise that just as soon as you’ve got used to one stage, they’re onto the next. And with the next stage come new challenges: challenges big (teething!?) and small (how TF to clip their nails), emotional (how to bond with each baby as an individual) and practical (how do I fit all this stuff in my car??). But weirdly I look forward to those challenges and have an almost overwhelming sense of excitement for each new stage of their lives.
Tune in to our Live Chat from 12th May 2021 over on our Facebook page – Dad Matters meets Alex.