The Madhouse Factors: Part Three

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Family

Another area in which I have been lucky is family. My parents live ten miles away and my mum has always been on call when I need her. One of the first things people always asked is ‘What are you going to do for help?’ which always irritated me as it was always accompanied with often a panicked incredulous look. All in all, not very helpful, particularly when I had no idea what exactly I was going to need help with. You will have plenty of time to think how you want to do this and look at the resources available to you. I knew from the outset that I wanted to be able to do this myself. Great that Mum was around and I would use her when I wanted to, but I wanted to know for myself that I could look after my four children myself.

In-laws are also another area which need to be considered, and managed if need be. You may be lucky and have a great relationship with your in-laws, or you may not have a relationship with them. I consider that I am lucky in my relationship with my in-laws, and that this has developed as I have grown up and started my own family. From my experience over the years, I have found that my in-laws just want to be involved. A mother is usually closer to her own mother than her mother-in-law and would normally be the first point of call when seeking advice on baby issues. At times, I can imagine this is hard for a mother-in-law and in the future years when I am in that position, I am sure I will understand more than I do now.

If you are not so lucky to have family help locally, start thinking who else may be of use. Maybe someone from a playgroup you know, neighbours or friends. Different people can help in different ways, for example neighbours can pick up the odd groceries for you (formula milk, nappies). Other local mums can drop siblings at school or playgroups. There are also other services you could consider. Homestart are a charity providing support and friendship for families, see home-start.org.uk.  NEST (Newborn & Nanny Education Services & Training, see newborneducation.co.uk) can help by providing students needing work experience who can help with a range of tasks from bottle washing and sterilising to night feeding. And you could also consider cleaners to help you manage your house. I was of the opinion not to have a cleaner as the stress of having someone come into the house on a certain day and having to think about which room we could go in whilst they clean around was really not worth the reward of having a clean house. The housework always gets done anyway. It really does and never takes as long as you think it will. You just need to accept that you will never have the whole house clean at the same time. You may have a wonderfully shiny bathroom but the rest of the house will look like it has just been burgled.

Although not part of the madhouse itself, family and external helpers can help you manage your madhouse more successfully, so start to consider who can help and how, and to manage those expectations that they may have.

Community

An external factor which can impact how you successfully manage your madhouse is your community. Where you live and what facilities you have around you makes a big difference. We are lucky in that our village we have a local park, convenience shop, post office, school and a petrol station with pay at pump (so as not leaving children unattended in car). All these things were going to make my life a bit easier over the next years. Again, no need to think you need to move, but start looking at what you have around you, what you don’t have, what you think you will need elsewhere, and how you could go about getting it.

Home

The layout of your house can make a huge difference in the first few months mainly in terms of sleeping arrangements. More on what we did later, but something to start thinking about before the home coming. That said, there is no need to think ‘Oh we are going to need to move house’, but you will need to plan a few things and visualise things in your head to ease pressure and prepare you for the stages to follow. And so when people ask you, open eyed ‘Where are they all going to sleep?’, you can calmly discuss your options.

Money

They say money does not make you happy, but it can make things easier. If you do not need to worry about money, a lot of everyday stress will be taken away. Babies do cost money, and lots of babies will cost a lot more. But they don’t actually need a lot and certainly not three of everything. Obviously you will need two or three of some things, which unfortunately seem to be the most high value items – car seats, high chairs, cots. But you really don’t need two or three times the usual amount of breast pads and two or three times the usual amount of maternity pads (luckily I was allowed a credit note). And you really don’t need lots of toys and clothes (especially as you will be washing everyday they can literally wear it again the next day). There are also many opportunities these days to purchase good quality nearly new items (more on this later).

As any new mother-to-be may do, I created a spreadsheet (remember I am an accountant) listing out all the purchases I  ‘needed’ for my new singleton baby, down to matching tie backs for the curtains. I also did a similar list for my multiple pregnancy, but this time with the benefit of hindsight. I will come on to share this in a future post.

So there you have it. Those are what I consider to be the factors you need to consider and manage over the next few years. Not all factors need to be managed equally well. You may struggle with one factor, such as ‘Partner’, but find that you are stronger in the ‘Self’ category. Or you could find that you are limited in the ‘Family’ category, but stronger in the ‘Partner’ and ‘Community’ categories.

You will have a madhouse for sure, but how successful you are at managing it will be a result of how successful you are at managing these factors.

Happy Half Term

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Ok so it’s half term. There will be Mums at home who that really doesn’t mean anything to because they have not yet entered the term time routine, and this week is just the same as next week, and the week after, and the week after, and well, for lots of week afters.

And there will be Mums at home who are wondering what to do with their brood. Some may be feeling lost because they don’t really know what to do, the brood doesn’t like the same thing, or Mum is out of practice because it is so easy to get out of practice of knowing what to do when they are at school more weeks than they are at home. There will be those Mums that take it in all in their stride, full of wonderful ideas to entertain and challenge their brood.  And there will be the work Mums, working out which clubs their brood can do, until what time, and what to do with them after, and some maybe then dealing with feelings they may have about actually wanting to be at home with their brood anyway and not at work.

So anyway, here in the West Midlands the sun is shining. Which is brilliant because there are so many things I can get up to outside with my four boys.

However they are not here. I am solo. My decision to stay at home with my 4 boys and not return to work was made many years ago, so I could be at home for my boys after school and in the holidays (and quite simply childcare for 4 children under the age of 2 would just be ridiculous, even for 4 children under the age of 3, or 4, or 5 – each year I always say to myself ‘I have 4 children under X’…. even now with 4 children under the age of 9, it still seems a bit silly… when will it sound ‘normal’ I wonder).

Anyway, after a bad few days in the Easter holidays when I said to my husband ‘Seriously I can not face 6 weeks of this madhouse in the summer’ (note, it was not said that clearly, in a rational way, as I am sure you can imagine), my boys were booked into a cricket camp for a week in the summer holidays.

They had been doing cricket at the ‘after school club’, and enjoyed it so we thought, well, let’s give it a go. And they LOVED it…. Not just a bit, but big time. So much so they did it the following week, and even the last day before school after the August Bank Holiday, when I asked ‘So what do you want to do today boys, for your last day? Shall we go swimming, to the local farm adventure place, the cinema?’ – my eldest pipes up … ‘Ooh can we do cricket please Mummy’. Ok right. I think what he was really saying was ‘Well thank you for all your time and efforts over the last 6 years Mummy, but quite frankly, those activities don’t quite cut the mustard anymore’. (Such a good phrase that one, where did that come from?).

So, whilst I was stood there in the kitchen (which is pretty much where I hang out, waiting for snack/drink demands, for the washing machine or tumble dryer to finish, whilst making various on-line purchases and ‘getting the tea on’), I was met with two emotions. One, ok, so my boys need, want and expect more than the activities I can provide now. They are boys after all. They need to be out and about all day, running, playing and needing more than the hour in the park which is enough for me before I want to come home, have a cup of tea and look at Facebook. Secondly, I looked at them and felt proud. Proud that I have brought up 4 boys who want to do something like that. Boys who want to go out and play sport, to learn new skills, to interact with other children, and not want to sit in all day playing on tablets and computers (which over the last few years has been a big concern). I have boys that need some male mentors in their lives to show them right from wrong (because most of the time they just look at me and my husband like we are a pair of idots). And well, cricket camp ticks all those boxes.  Yes I am lucky that I have 4 boys, who want to go together, who take confidence from being together, and generally have a pack mentality (like dogs), and I am proud of them. So, well, why would I say no?

So now we are at half term. And it has happened again. Ooh can we do cricket Mummy. Yes. And here I am once again battling the emotions. I feel guilty. Guilty because there are other children out there having wonderful times with their Mummy, enjoying the autumn sunshine, having day trips, meeting up with friends. And mine are elsewhere. Part of me feels sad because I miss them, and I know that the more holidays they do things like this, the less time I will get back with them, and well, then that time has gone. But I have to tell myself they are getting older. They need more, expect more. When I was younger, myself and my sister were quite happy tootling around the house playing games, watching the Sound of Music fifty times a day and popping to the shops with Mum. But these boys need more. And I want them to have more. And I suppose I am starting to recognise that that ‘more’ can no longer come from just me.

And another part of me feels relieved. Relieved because I don’t have to entertain them, because sometimes that is hard. Relieved that I do not have to take them to the park and stay longer than I want to, looking at them working out how many pairs of trousers I am going to have to wash when we get in, and praying there is no dog dirt on their boots. And as I say, after more weeks at school than being at home, I am slightly out of practice. So I feel relieved. And then of course I then beat myself up for feeling relieved and there is the associated guilt that comes with feeling relieved.

And another part of me again is so proud. Proud that they are growing in independence, in confidence and actually want to go out and do something like this.

So I decide that when they come home, I will be refreshed after having had time to myself and I will be able to give them my all, my attention. However the reality is, they come in, after yet another great day at cricket camp, and instantly want to go out and play football with their friends in our estate.

Ok. Well I suppose they are happy, which is my main aim in this life. So, I will just be in the kitchen, getting the tea on, if anyone needs me.

The Madhouse Factors: Part Two

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So moving through the Madhouse Factors, these are the next two that need to be considered and managed.

Existing siblings

Now this is a biggie. The siblings. Our family planning basically was me deciding that I would like siblings with a two year age gap, because quite simply that is what I had with my sister, and quite liked it. So after the first birthday of my first child, the ticking of my body clock was getting louder.

The existing child is already there in their own little routine, with lots of attention and lots of demands before the new arrivals. This can work both ways. Yes, obviously this will make things harder as they will continue to have their demands and may not appreciate the changes, but I do believe that there are golden advantages that far outweigh the grey disadvantages:

  • I had been through all this before. I knew how to change a nappy, what to do if the baby cries, so I had more confidence in dealing generally with all baby matters.
  • I had an existing network – ante-natal class mums, walk to the park mums, playgroup mums, music class mums.
  • I knew what baby clubs I enjoyed so could focus on these ones straight away and not have to go through the process of finding out which ones suited me. In turn, I could consider which would be multiple friendly, and at which ones the leaders would help me out practically and financially. I knew which parks/soft plays would suit me with a larger family, where to park, which table to get, what time to turn up.
  • I had a reason to get everyone dressed and out of the house because the sibling will have activities and needs to be out and about. And so will you because believe me staying in all day with a two year old and three babies will not lead to a good day. And it will be even worse if you are in your old tracksuit bottoms without having had a shower.
  • I felt that I wanted to give each of my children an equal opportunity, so if the first went to music classes, art classes, play groups, I would want my other babies to have the same opportunities. Why should they miss out just because they happened to be born with two siblings in tow.
  • I had a little friend with me who I could talk to and eat my lunch with.

So consider your existing children and how you are going to manage them through this process, not just in terms of their feelings with regards to the new arrivals, but practically. How can you ensure they still attend their art class. How can you ensure they will still get enough time with their mummy and daddy. They will be a part of the madhouse, so they need to be successfully managed too.

Boy or Girl

As a small baby, it generally doesn’t matter whether you have a baby boy or a baby girl. A baby boy or baby girl do the same thing really. Even as they move into the toddler years, again, it doesn’t matter as boys are all different and girls are all different so yours will just be as they are. But as they move through the years, whether they are boys or girls will start making a difference to your life style. I noticed the gender of my children started to impact my lifestyle when my children started playgroup. I was more likely to chat to the mums of the children my child was friends with. Birthday parties will be attended most likely by more children of the same gender as your child, so you will become more familiar with those families, and the types of parties your children will have will depend on their gender. Having four boys, I have been to football parties, soft play parties, bowling parties, nerf gun parties, outdoor survival parties, but I have never been to a Build-a-Bear party (will someone please invite me),  Frozen parties, Beauty/pamper parties or ice-skating parties.

In turn, your weekend activities may be different. Now my boys are older, our weekends often involve us standing at the football side-lines, playing cricket, watching football matches on the television, discussing Fantasy Premier League team transfers, the latest FIFA game and Minecraft. I don’t make jewellery, paint little girls toe nails, watch ballet lessons or know the latest gossip on OneDirection (well, ok, maybe a bit). My shopping trips almost always unfortunately involve a trip to Sports Direct, whereas I would much prefer to go into Smiggle. So there isn’t really much you can do about this one I am afraid. And as I don’t have a little girl, I am not really in a position to compare and contrast. I can just tell you what I know from my experience of running a madhouse consisting of four boys. When I told my mid-wife I was expecting three boys (in addition to my boy toddler), she gave me some wise advice. Treat them like dogs. Give them exercise twice a day and feed them at set intervals. Very wise advice indeed.

The Hospital Days: T2’s City Break

When the doctor appeared and was subjected to my rant about T1 and T3’s feeding, he also provided us with an update on T2. He was to be put on a ventilator as his SATS readings (which measure the amount of oxygen circulating in his bloodstream) were too low. They were getting these readings from a pulse oximeter (like a clip) on his finger. The doctors hoped that this would sort him out although there is a risk it could make a hole in his lung (pneumothorax). This is an abnormal collection of air or gas in the pleural space that separates the lung from the chest wall which interferes with normal breathing.

Surprise surprise, a few hours later the doctor appeared again. T2 had indeed developed a pneumothorax and would need to be transferred to a higher level SCBU which had better facilities to deal with him. At the moment it was looking like the closest SCBU that had space for him was Liverpool. We were in Birmingham. This news did not go down well. Everything was crumbling around me. How could this be happening after such a positive start. I could not comprehend how T2 could be taken to Liverpool. I felt like if he went, he would never come back. This couldn’t be happening.

The next few hours were extremely anxious. We couldn’t do anything apart from wait while the nurses tried to find a SCBU closer to us. My husband’s parents, who live in Leeds, were getting ready to pack up and be with little T2 in Liverpool. It was then that we received welcome news that Wolverhampton could squeeze him in. We felt relieved for a while. That was 20 minutes away and I was already planning how my husband could spend his next days part in Wolverhampton and part with me, T1 and T3. T2 was to be taken to Wolverhampton by ambulance that evening.

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We have some of our saddest photos of us both with T1 and T3 set up in their little SCBU room and T2 all wired up in his, waiting for him to go. I recall asking the consultant the question I never wanted to ask, not really asking it properly, but he knew what I was getting at…. ‘Is he like, going to be ok?’…. ‘He should be’…. I just put all my trust in the staff, because that was all I could do.  It was planned that my husband would follow the ambulance and stay at Wolverhampton until T2 was all set up. We spent hours waiting outside SCBU whilst they prepared him for transfer – fitting tubes, wires, sterilising transfer equipment and other medical things I really don’t know about, only to find out that we had to wait a few more hours as they needed to start the whole process again as someone had put the wrong tube in his tummy button and they had to re-do this and sterilise everything again (seriously). We then made the decision that it would be too late for my husband to drive (he wasn’t allowed to go in the ambulance) considering the lack of sleep he had had the previous night and the stressful circumstances so he spent another night in my room on the ward.

T2 spent the next few days on a city break in Wolverhampton, staying in the NICU at New Cross. He settled in well after the transfer (this bit being the most stressful and risky for him) and had a lovely team of nurses and doctors looking after him. My husband would spend the morning with T2 then the afternoon with me, T1 and T3. I would save some milk so my husband could take it to T2 the following day (stored in the fridge).

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Although I wasn’t able to get to see T2 at Wolverhampton, I knew he had his Daddy and I was able to call the nurses at any time for an update which I regularly did in the middle of the night, when I would wake in a panic, when I would want to know he was just there, and ok. The procedure (chest drain) to mend his pneumothorax had been successful but he was still being kept on a ventilator and monitored. I kept his baby-gro which he had first worn and sniffed and cuddled it at night. His grandparents also went to visit him. It was so hard not being able to be with him, but I had T1 and T3 to keep focussing on, and ensured I could do what I could for him, such as expressing and saving some milk for him.

On the evening/early morning whilst T2 was being prepared to be transferred to a different unit,  I was waiting with my Dad and remember him saying ‘Christ, isn’t it hard having children’. Too right it is. They bring with them a whole new set of worries and emotions. That was the worst day of our lives and we still struggle with it. Luckily that is as bad as it got and I cannot believe how lucky we are.

Other multiple pregnancies and births could have a lot more complications and issues than we had, with different outcomes. We were extremely lucky. Unfortunately, the greater public often do not generally have experience first hand of a multiple pregnancy and birth. On our first family of six holiday (when our babies were 6 months old), we overheard a comment when a passer by nosied into our HGV pushchair – ‘Oh my goodness that would be my worst nightmare’. Really? I could think of worse nightmares. Each multiple baby is a child of its mummy and daddy. Their pride and joy. And that parent has not only had to worry about that baby through its pregnancy and birth journey but also another one, two or three or more, together with extra or heightened risks that are present in a multiple pregnancy and birth. I wish on-lookers would consider that. They can look and say wonderful things, but if they can’t, I wish they would just keep quiet. The emotions and risks of going through a multiple pregnancy and birth really do deserve more.

The Hospital Days: Upstairs & Downstairs

Once settled in our room on the ward, we soon set to looking after T1 and T3. T2 was doing fine downstairs in SCBU, getting his extra oxygen and my husband would pop down on a regular basis to see him.

Feeding upstairs

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I had decided I wanted to breast feed if I could for as long as possible (I had with my first up to 5 months) but also supplement with formula as imagined I could not keep up a milk supply for three babies, and I could not see how I could feasibly breast feed each baby for a full feed in addition to having a toddler requiring my attention. T1 and T3 were latching on but not really doing much sucking. The sucking reflex is usually ready for extra-uterine life by 36 weeks, so not surprisingly T1 and T3, born at just over 35 weeks, were struggling with this. The midwives suggested that we try feeding formula milk as well. We were provided with ready made up small glass bottles of Aptimil formula milk and also syringes.

The feeding process quickly went downhill overnight (it was agreed that my husband was allowed to stay with me overnight). The nurses were doing ‘heel prick tests’ on T1 and T3 to monitor their blood glucose levels*.

Our boys’ blood sugars were not being maintained. We were trying breast and bottles feeding and were not really sure what was best and what was working.

T1 and T3’s heals were black and blue from the bruising from the heel prick tests every few hours. It got to the point that they would squeal if you went to touch their feet as they pre-empted what was coming. This was heartbreaking. We were desperately trying to feed them milk, willing them to take it so they didn’t have to have their little heals pricked again and it was all bubbling out of their mouths again, or they were sick after. I couldn’t move to pick them up out of their cots due to my stitches and felt absolutely useless. I hadn’t expected to feel this immobile. I couldn’t even change a maternity pad and had to lie there whilst someone did it for me.

I knew from my reading of premature feeding that specific milk is available for premature babies with different teats to help them suck. I even knew from my own experience that milk at room temperature may not go down well, surely better to heat to body temperature. When I questioned the nurses about the premature milk and teats I was met with the reply that they were only available in SCBU and not allowed up to the ward. Right. Doesn’t that tell us something.

The following morning I decided I had enough energy to be loaded into a wheelchair to taken down to see little T2 who I had not seen since the delivery room. Once in the wheelchair (I never expected to be in wheelchair after my c-section but just couldn’t walk), my husband passed me both T1 and T3 so we could take them down to see their brother. I was distraught when the nurses told me I could not do this. I wanted to have them with me and not leave them behind. I completely understand why now – the nurses explained they were responsible for them and they couldn’t let them leave the ward, for safety and infection risks. But it didn’t seem that obvious to me at the time. A nurse said she would sit with the babies whilst I went to see T2.

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T2 was in his incubator. I met the SCBU nurses who were looking after him and he seemed to be doing well. My husband had been with him a lot anyway so I was up to date on his progress. In addition to extra oxygen, T2 was also receiving antibiotics through a cannula which is standard practice for a premature baby in the baby unit.

Back up on the ward, the feeding was not getting any better and I asked to see the doctor in charge, who when he appeared really got the brunt of my built up stress, tiredness, worry and hormones. I can see why we ended up on the ward with T1 and T3 as they were well and good weights, but the fact is that they just couldn’t feed consistently off me or the bottle. They were too tired and their sucking reflex wasn’t developed enough. It was agreed that they should be taken to SCBU and be tube fed. A decision we were relieved and happy with as we knew it was the right one. I was to express as often as I could and take the milk down to my boys. The boys were to go down to SCBU at 4pm on Day Two and also have the same antibiotics as T2. They were to be fed a combination of my milk and formula milk by tubes (up their noses).

So my next task was to get the old breasts to maximum efficiency. A lovely nurse sat with me for ages massaging my breasts for milk for me as I just didn’t have the energy to do it. She managed to get the wonderfully nutritious gold stuff and store it in a syringe ready for all babies. This would be fed to them orally by syringe and some would be stored in the fridge for T2 when he was ready for it. This was to be my purpose. To get my milk ready for when my babies needed it.

* Blood glucose levels

A good supply of food energy, particularly glucose, is important for normal activity, growth and development. In rare cases, blood glucose levels can fall too low and a baby may become unwell. The concern is that long periods of low blood glucose in a sick baby may cause brain damage.

 According to Paediatrics & Child Heath journal (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc) in healthy babies, blood glucose levels are the lowest one to two hours of age while the baby gets used to being outside of the womb. In most cases, blood glucose levels will rise after this using healthy sugar and fat stores. Healthy babies born at full term do not need blood glucose checks. They have enough stored energy to last them until breastfeeding is well-established, usually by the third day of life.  Small and preterm babies may not have enough stores to keep the blood glucose level up without extra feedings. They need routine glucose checks starting at about two hours of age, and then before baby’s feeds, and then after the feed.

The Madhouse Factors: Part One

So off we go. If you have just found out you are going to be outnumbered by little people, chances are you could be at risk of developing a madhouse. When you are ready, you need to consider how you are going to successfully manage your madhouse.  I believe that there are eight factors that all contribute to a madhouse. Consider each factor individually, understand how they work together, then you can work out steps to help you manage them and your madhouse.

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Self

What kind of person are you? This is a key factor in determining how successful your madhouse house will be. I am a chartered accountant (not something that often has a great public perception) but generally as an accountant, I have a logical mind, like a challenge and a to-do list. When I was working, one of the keys to a successful job was time management. And I was good at time management and making lists. I have used these skills in the home and I honestly think that path helped me significantly. So if you sound like that, I reckon you are half way there.

If not, time to start practising. If you are going to have four children under two, or even a singleton, time management is the key. I say to my husband that I run my house like a ship. Obviously I am the captain (although at time I think he tries to assert himself in that position, as if). But I need to run it like a ship.

So start looking at your time management. And List List List – you will need to be on top of what you need to successfully manage your madhouse, who has medicine when, when you last expressed, who had how many ounces of milk and when, health visitor phone numbers and so on. You will need to be super-organised. The more organised and in control you are, the smoother the next few years will be and the more you will enjoy them. So that is how you operate. Next, what do you look like when you operate.

People always commented to me that I always looked calm and in control but how you actually are and how people perceive you to be are two very different things. Some people want to see you like a mad woman out of control – that poor woman trapped in the house with four boys under two – how does she do it. Some people expect you to be running down the road in your nightie, to turn up at playgroups with greasy hair, pale and dishevelled. So don’t. Believe me, the fact that people think you look great and are coping really well will soon give you the boost and in turn you will start to believe that you are doing a great job. And you will be. Turn up looking like some dogs dinner, you will get the sympathetic looks, ‘Oh that poor woman’ and it really won’t help matters and you will just want to go home, cry, and eat biscuits. It is simple, Look great, feel great.

You don’t need lots of time to do little tricks to make you feel and look better. I painted toenails and finger nails whilst expressing milk. No one expects a mother of four under two to have painted toe nails. The fact that I did used to make me that bit more cheery in the morning when I got out of bed and saw my toes, and the comments I received when people were aghast that I had time to paint my toenails gave me a little spring in my step. Something as simple as that.

Partner

This is where I am extremely fortunate (although I am not sure he always reciprocates the feeling). My husband has always shared the responsibility of the large family with me. He too has surrendered himself to his family. We never discussed this, it just happened and we have both taken on everything as a team. He has given up social activities, sport, nights out for bath time. Luckily he works 20 minutes away so always able to be here for breakfast and bath time, and this is so fortunate for me, although at times he probably doesn’t see it like that as those times are probably the most stressful. I have often suspected him parking round the corner for a quick motivational talk or power nap before coming home and succumbing himself to the regular chaos of bath time and bedtime (which he always diligently got straight into after the usual array of expletives from me for being just those few minutes later than I needed him to be. None of those smiles and ‘Have you had a nice day darling?’)

Depending on who your partner is, where he works, his other commitments, and also his personality (including those time management skills) will shape your next few years. My husband too is a chartered accountant. Need I say more.

I have noticed over the years that the advantage of having the higher end multiples is that my husband’s employers are more understanding of his needs at home. As you will come to read, in the first few weeks, he was often arriving at work half an hour or so late. This seemed acceptable, as his wife was at home with baby triplets. I often think if I had a toddler and a new born, that tardiness wouldn’t have been acceptable.

So in preparing for the new arrivals, you should start thinking about how your partner is going to play a part. Is he likely to see for himself that he may need to be more involved than if you were just having a singleton, or do you need to prepare him for this. Depending on his personality, he may need more managing, as may his expectations. He is part of the madhouse, and could either play an important part in successfully managing it, or he could end up being a factor that you need to manage.

The Extended Family (or…The ‘Comforters’)

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Here is a photo of our extended family. The comforters. Those things we have helped our children develop a love for and bond with over the years, only to get to a point where actually you question whether the disadvantages start to outweigh the advantages. Yes they are helpful to settle a restless child, or to help them get to sleep at night, but they are certainly of no hope whatsoever when you are tucking a child in bed at night and it is not there and you have to spend 20 minutes searching the house for it, getting ready to go out for the day, packing up to go on holiday, or when simply, they just aren’t there to help because they have been left somewhere they shouldn’t have been (yes, external to the madhouse).

In our madhouse, with 4 children, we have had, and still have our fair share of comforters, and stories that go with them

Let me introduce them. All 10 of them.

Geoffrey, Spare Geoffrey, Emergency (or ‘Mergency’) Geoffrey, Bramley, Bunny, Seal, Brown Dog, Brown Bear (original names those), Neddy and Blue Bear.

With my first born, I never really knew about the comforter until a friend visited with her baby who had her own ‘Geoffrey’ who she was enjoying snuggling. Ooh how cute, he is nice and soft, where did you get him from? So the next day I was in the same shop buying our own Geoffrey. He was a hit, as was Bramley who was given as a birth present and I decided he would be the other comforter, and soon, sure enough, they were our extended family.

Imagine this then, two years down the line. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was at home going through the ‘milk routines’, looking after the babies, and my husband pops to the shops with the toddler. He comes home an hour or so later. Well Mummy, we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we lost Geoffrey. The good news is that the department store still had him in stock so we have a new one. I was aghast. Yes, quick thinking husband and luckily for you, you managed to pull that one off with the toddler, but that’s not going to work with me. Where is the real Geoffrey? My mind was full of thoughts of him lying there, alone, being trodden on by shoppers, never to feel the love he once had felt again. I was heartbroken. So. I jumped in the car and set about retracing the steps my husband and toddler had done a few hours earlier. I trudged around, eyes searching like a mad woman, from Fat Face to Thorntons with no luck. How many times could I keep doing this. I stopped, turned around, and then there, as if it was meant to be, was Geoffrey stretched out on the stand-up sign advertising the BHS cafe. My heart leapt. Relief. After a quick call to the husband which no doubt irritated him as obviously it was followed with comments like, well you just couldn’t have looked properly, I arrived home with Geoffrey, the original. But now we had welcomed ‘Mergency’ Geoffrey into our homes too.

Now Spare Geoffrey was just that. A spare, who was kept at my parents house, hidden in a cupboard, for emergencies, where toddler boy used to spend his days when I was working before my second stint of having babies. It wasn’t long after the arrival of Emergency Geoffrey that Spare Geoffrey was discovered, and begrudgingly welcomed into the extended family. Great.

Whist preparing for the arrival of my babies,  I spent a great deal of time in Mothercare choosing 2 comfort toys for each boy. These were allocated at birth and stayed with them during their time in SCBU and hospital. Welcome to the world Bunny (his companion, Monkey, was never accepted and now lives in the pile of teddies in a drawer somewhere, and was replaced by an old souvenir of mine from a Seal Santuary, Seal), Neddy and Blue Bear, and Brown Bear and Brown Dog.

Brown Dog had his own adventure when his master, T2, was transferred to a different SCBU for an operational procedure during his first few days of life. He went by ambulance with T2 to Wolverhampton for a city break, and myself and my husband couldn’t go, but Brown Dog did, and watched over him. When T2 returned after a successful city break, Brown Dog didn’t. The staff knew of his importance and finally tracked him down and he was returned.

Neddy and Blue Bear have a story too. When packing up from holidays, we are usually so meticulous about checking we have everything. However on a recent holiday, we were so desperate to ‘JUST GET IN THE CAR AND DRIVE’ that somehow Neddy and Blue Bear were overlooked in the final check and cross check, and were left hiding in a cupboard. When we realised this, a few hours later, we all felt so sad. Luckily my parents were still at the holiday village for another week and managed to locate them the next day (but it was a long 24 hours, I’ll tell you that), and Neddy and Blue Bear spent the rest of the week on holiday with the grandparents (as we just couldn’t trust the post) and we were sent photos of them having a great time, accompanied by postcards. As Neddy and Blue Bear’s master was older at this time, we managed to pull that one off for a few days.

So that is our extended family. The comforters. Some, just bits of tatty material and not much stuffing, but they have been on our journey. They have shared the memories, the love and tears of our children, and they are just that…part of the family.

As a child (well, 14), I only know too well the feeling of losing one. Pinkie Ted (also aged 14). After a wonderful day at a zoo on a family holiday, we returned to the hotel, tucked ourselves into bed, only to have it dawn on us the Pinkie Ted was missing. It was a long restless night for all of us. We suspected that Pinkie had been taken by the housemaids when they changed the sheets. Sure enough, and to everyone’s relief, there was Pinkie sitting on the shelf in reception in the morning, nice and fresh after undergoing the complete laundry procedure.

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I still have Pinkie now. My husband doesn’t let him anywhere near the bed (‘Get that germ ridden thing out of here’), but he still sits there, holding my love and tears from over the years, watching over me.