In 2014 my husband and I ummed and errrrrd for a few months before deciding that 3 was the magic number and that we would try for another baby. At this point we had two boys aged 17 months and 3 ½ yrs. They are just under two years apart so I had had two under two and managed pretty successfully for the most part. I had some fertility issues (no identified reason, but it just didn’t ever happen unless I took Clomid) and so waiting around was not necessarily an option. It seemed like now or never and so we went for now – I mean how hard could it be? Little did we know that what awaited us was four kids under four…
I am a worrier and so around 6 weeks into my pregnancy I went to the early pregnancy unit for a scan to reassure myself that all was well. I went alone as I kind of knew all was well (I was experiencing major morning sickness so hormones were clearly chugging along nicely) and indeed it was!
A couple of minutes into the scan the sonographer uttered the words that would change our world forever:
Yep that is exactly what that means!
I was pregnant with twins. Immediately doubling our family and taking us to having four under four. Technically we had four kids three and under, but only for two days so I don’t count that although it does sound even more shocking.
Honestly, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so I kind of did both. I remember saying that we were financially ruined. The midwife looked rather horrified by my tears and clear panic etched across my face. There was so much stuff running through my head in that moment. It was exciting, unbelievable and terrifying all at the same time. Would we need a new car? Did we need a new house? How would I cope? Could we afford it? I didn’t know what to panic about first so I did what I always do and panicked about it all at the same time!
Can I cope?
Throughout my pregnancy the thing I kept coming back to was how would I cope and how could I possibly meet the needs of all these little people? It made me sad to think of how it would affect the boys and how much of me would be taken from them. I would regularly get upset about the daunting prospect of four kids under four, but then would think about how exciting it would be to have twins and the joy that a large family could bring. I would count my lucky stars as well. There was a time when I didn’t think I would have any children and now I was going to have four. How could I not be happy? I was happy and I felt blessed, but boy, was I scared.
When the girls arrived the first few weeks where a total nightmare, but I told myself this was not a true reflection of having four tiny kids. One of the twins was sick and had to stay in the NICU for several weeks so it was chaos and everyone suffered. I was emotional about the baby, tired from feeding a new-born and the boys were dealing with a dramatic change. I don’t think anyone in our family would remember this at as a happy time. It is stressful having a baby in the NICU and all you want to do is be with that baby, but of course I had three other kids to take care of so could not just abandon them. They were all just babies so no one understood why mummy and daddy kept taking in turns to go out. They must have found it so difficult. I struggled too and felt like I was being torn in two. My heart hurt, my head hurt and, as I had to have a c section delivery, my body hurt too. It was rough!
Our new normal
Once twin 2 came home the real life of having 4 under 4 could begin and we tried to work out ‘our new normal’ before my husband had to return to work. Logistics seemed to be the biggest issue. How would I move everyone from place to place? Our second son was only 2 – hardly big enough to be expected to walk or scoot everywhere and so we tried out options including this:
This is something I have learnt from having four under four. You have to be flexible in the way you do things. There is no manual so you just have to try stuff and if it is a disaster then its back to the drawing board. As long as everyone is safe it is ok to fail.
This is truly the thing that I found and indeed still find the hardest about having four little children. How do you keep them all safe? You can’t watch them all 24 hours a day. There were times when I was changing nappies or feeding a baby and the boys would seize the opportunity to climb or do something else dangerous. I was concerned all the time and felt like I spent my life counting to four and assessing risk. The whole experience has not helped my anxiety levels much. I have always been anxious, but leaving the house with two pre-schoolers and two new-borns in a buggy is intense.
Know your Limitations
I soon learnt, after a horrendous trip to the playground, that I needed to know my limitations and the confines that having four under four places on you. I couldn’t necessarily do the stuff that I used to do when I only had two little ones. When you have a toddler and a baby; the baby can simply go in a sling and off you go to do whatever the toddler enjoys. Not so when you have twins. There are twin carriers, but my girls weighed over 12 pounds combined at birth so that very quickly became a not very practical option.
I never wanted the boys to feel that they were suffering or missing out because we had the twins. It wasn’t their fault after all… So, within knowing my limitations I tried to find alternative options. We couldn’t go to the big playground when I was home alone as it has two different sections and you can’t see both at the same time. However, we could go to another one that still had fun stuff, but is smaller so I can see the whole thing and keep them all safe. We couldn’t go on scooters as the boys would get too far away and fly quickly towards roads. I couldn’t keep up with them whilst pushing a double buggy and recovering from a C Section. Instead I made ‘find it cards’ and so they walked slowly alongside the buggy as we were playing a game and they needed to pay attention to the world. It is basically like little kid bingo!
We also played ‘Mummy says’ This game was a great way to teach them to do what I said whilst they were having fun. I would say things like ‘mummy says wiggle’, ‘mummy says march’ and then learning ones like ‘mummy says stop and wait’. Ultimately they became so good at listening to ‘Mummy says stand still like soldiers’ that the scooters came back out to play.
Four Kids = Never enough time
When you have four kids under four there is never enough time for everything or anything. The practicalities of my life mean that I am virtually always preparing food or snacks or drinks. Or I am tidying up after said sustenance. I do at least two loads of washing a day and I have had to let some of my standards slip. This also means I feel guilty a lot and worry if everyone is getting what they need from me.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
I like a tidy house. Those that have visited my house recently would probably beg to differ, but really I do… I hate clutter and having stuff everywhere, but I have had to let that go for the sake of my own sanity. If you have four kids especially four little kids I don’t think you can do everything. I tried and nearly sent myself over the edge. I had to accept that I am not a superhuman being. Despite the children believing I have extra eyes in the back of my head I am a mere mortal. I have just two hands and so can only do so much.
Say NO to ironing
I have had to admit that I cannot wash everything, iron everything (including baby grows – why did I do that?!), cook, clean and have a perfect house. Well I could, but then I would not be the mummy I want to be and the one that I believe they need. I want to be able to take them to playgroups and to enjoy doing fun activities with them. So, I now don’t iron anything (I felt so rebellious to start with). I just fold and iron before wearing if necessary. It is never necessary to iron the kids stuff (I have come to realise) as it will quickly be covered in paint, mud, food or bodily fluid anyway so who cares about a couple of creases. The house is clean (I make sure of that), but it is rarely completely tidy and if it is it is because I have hidden the evidence. I fully plan to go through every cupboard and purge once they are all at school/nursery, but for now ‘clean’ is what is important. My advice to visitors is just don’t open any cupboards!
Many things about me have changed since I had four under four. I became infinitely more anxious and all of a sudden felt like I didn’t know who I was before I was mummy. I lost that me for a while in the whirlwind of being mummy, but I soon realised that if I wasn’t happy neither were they. Those little loons are my everything and all I want is to make the lives as perfect as possible. I know now that in order to do that I have to take care of me too.
Taking care of me mostly means exercise and lots of it. I run around 20km a week (not including the running around I do after the littles). This gives me some space to think and clear my head. I also do HITT sessions almost everyday just to give me a little boost. Exercise makes me aware of me and bizarrely feels like a treat to myself -although not in the midst of burpees!
Each evening I also take time to hide out and watch crappy TV alone. I need quiet time away from everyone, husband included. He and I also eat dinner on our own once a week. We put the kids to bed and get a takeaway. It is our time together and we look forward to it. The rest of the time we barely get to say hello to one another. Even if we do find the time to chat we can’t hear one another; the noise of four littles is deafening! I am often relieved that I don’t live next to us – god bless our neighbours!
Finally if I can escape for a quick coffee on my own whilst I have help then I do. I am very lucky as my parents come and help once a week and I have a part time nanny so I can work and get a break.
I am not going to lie and pretend that this life of mine is a joy everyday. It is not! Some days I just want to hide in the loo and scream. Some days I do just hide in the loo and scream! Having four under four was hard. Having four under 6 is still hard, but our house is fun and vibrant. There is no chance of getting bored here as there is always something going on. I spend a lot of time breaking up heated debates and squabbles, but there is a lot of love here. They do have a great time together. I can see now how amazing it will be for them and us having one another. There is a light at the end of the tunnel; I foresee a future when I will be on holiday lying on a sun lounger watching them play together. It is getting so close I can almost touch it! When that time comes you will probably find me sobbing quietly on my sun lounger as I reminisce about having four under four and wish they were little again.