Friday, 14 February 2014

Life with six month old triplets - from the Dad's view

I found this hidden away on my laptop today, D must have written it when the kids were six months old, as words of advice to other dads of triplets. Re-reading it today (the kids are now 18months, 15 corrected) made me cry so I just had to share it!


People always say it’s a wild ride having triplets, and that the first year is both the most challenging and rewarding. People don’t often talk about the father though, and maybe there’s a reason, but there are a huge set of experiences for Mum and a wealth of advice and helpful information to help her and only a few for Dad.  I can see that we live in a modern world where the roles have changed for both parents and modern families aren’t as straight forward as the Breadwinner & the Housewife. I must have grown up during the transition period because when I was in school I had a conflicting experience with how a father should be. At school we were told that when we become fathers we can be just as effective as mothers in bringing up a child and maybe that’s true, but you watch Mum and the way she just knows why baby is crying. However Dad has to go down his checklist – just so you know mine is “Wet?, Hungry?, Cold?, Poorly?, Possessed by a Demon?”.
Here are some of my impressions of the last six months. I was really looking forward to becoming a Dad for the first time, and the fact that it was triplets meant I knew from the start that I was going to be needed as more than just a breadwinner and casual support.

The day they were born was certainly unpleasant for Holly, but for me it was an adventure. When she was confirmed as being in labour, with the words I’ll never forget (and believe me none of the events that days will ever be forgotten). The words were coming from a registrar, having been asked to perform a swab, she decided to take a look first “I won’t do the test because you are at least 3 centimetres” – and with that the consultant in the hall got all excited and I was sent home to get a bag of stuff ready for the transfer to a bigger hospital. Holly was being reassured that the hospital she was in COULD handle the birth, but that it would be safer for a transfer. I missed the ride to Sheffield and had to rush 40 miles down the motorway, without the aid of blue lights, which was an even greater challenge since I can’t actually drive (but if we’d owned a car I’d have given it a good try!).
After finding that the fastest train would get me there at 7pm, I managed to get a lift with some friends. It was around midday when Holly left in the ambulance. I arrived 40 minutes before Holly was taken into surgery, just in time.
Of all the silly little details I remember from that day, the biggest one is from the London Olympics. In all the hospital waiting rooms, on all the TV’s, Team GB were busy winning their highest number of gold medals in the 6 hours between starting my trek and seeing our babies for the first time.

In the operating theatre where they were born, I could see that Holly needed me more than ever before. I tried to stay calm and helpful, but at the same time I was just as scared as she was. When I was invited to go into the next room where all three newly born babies were being checked over, I really didn’t react as I expected I would. Don’t misunderstand; it was one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. I must have just stood in the middle of the room for a few minutes, hand over my mouth, not breathing and just waiting for the sound of a baby’s cry – or, well I don’t know what I expected but all of the warnings and stories we heard I think I was just waiting for the bad news, after all they were eleven weeks early.
Instead of that there was silence, except for the quiet cough of each baby taking their first breath – this happened for each one, one after the other.

The next couple of days were spent in Sheffield, I was by Holly’s side the whole time, except when I went to go meet our babies in NICU. She got really upset that she couldn’t (initially) go see them for herself so I brought back pictures and told her about how they were doing.
It wasn’t too long before they were transferred back to Scunthorpe neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which was far closer to our home.

They spent another 9 weeks up in NICU at Scunthorpe and aside from being small and needing time to grow, they passed each test and put on weight. I still can’t believe how lucky we are in having three strong babies.
The time spent in NICU was a great learning experience for a set of new parents and I have to say that, aside from the worry from the obvious reasons for them being there, treat this as an opportunity to really learn about how to do things and also in the case of triplets, as a chance to get to know and bond with your new babies without needing to be super-busy with the day-to-day routine of it all. I have some advice for other new fathers as well, and this is priceless; ALWAYS ASK QUESTIONS. Mum will feel like she has to know everything, and will feel silly if she doesn’t so your role as Dad is to play the stupid person and ask all the questions – whether you’re sure that your partner has the answer or not. Believe me there were times when I could tell Holly hadn’t a clue how to do something but didn’t want to say anything. I knew that these were my times to step up and ask the “stupid question” and the nursing staff are always happy to answer. I was surprised as well as to how happy the nurses were to work with us. It took us a while to realise it and we went along with a lot of what they were doing before that time, but we started to think about when they all came home with us and the nurses were glad to help. One of our biggest issues was that our babies were being fed every 3 hours by 3 different nurses at the same time. This is all well and good as to establish a routine before we get them home would make it a lot easier for us, but there isn’t three of us and so when we did get them home, we could see that at least one baby was always going to have to wait to be fed. We stepped in and talked to the nurse in charge about our view, and she agreed with us that only 1, maybe 2 nurses would feed the babies at a feed time, that way their feeding would be staggered over an hour or so. It worked much better for us and we can tell now that the waiting has done them good.

We got Gaius home a couple of weeks earlier than the others because he was bigger and stronger than them. He was dubbed the practice baby and we tested out all of our kit with him, taking him around in the pushchair and tried out all the cot’s and baskets with him. When we got the other two home the fun really began! I had drafted in as many of my family as could possibly free up some time so that we had help available in the early times. There were lots of volunteers and we appreciated the hour of sleep they gave us, or the extra hands during feeding times. The whole thing even brought us closer with my sister, who I hadn’t spoken to in a meaningful way for a few years, she was most helpful spending an entire week with us as much as she could and by the end of that week, you could certainly tell just by looking at her what affect the constant rush had on her, imagine how we felt!

After a month or so things were easier. The main reason for this was that we had settled into what it was like and we’d got used to having very little sleep. I had to go back to work on a part time basis and it was hard keeping focussed on work, especially with all the interest from the people at work. It was even harder not to give in to the temptation to go slowly coming home from work in order to get a break! Holly was always saying that my being at work was a break but it didn’t feel like it, I’m sure it’s the same for any father, you get home from work and you’re tired and your head is still going at work pace. It’s hard to get into a good system when things are like that and I frequently wanted to have as much time to myself as Holly wanted for herself so there was always a fuss when there was 20 minutes between feeds over who it was who could go do something else (even posting a letter felt like a day out). As hard as it was, I tried to understand that breastfeeding and being stuck inside all the time was much harder than just not sleeping and going to work without a break. I constantly made little snacks for her because it was easier than making a big meal – and finding the time to eat it! Holly will remember the most amazing lasagne cooked by her brother; we heated it and were all ready to eat by 8pm, but then things got in the way and that amazing lasagne turned into a cold mess by 1am when we finally got the chance to eat it. There was another time when I thought I could cook a pizza and then get on and help with the feeding so that it would be ready just after they had gone to sleep. I still find bits of crisped and burnt cheese in the oven.

I supported holly to come up with a routine that would fit the babies needs and our own, electing to do the night feeds so that she could sleep (her rest is more important since she was their source of food and warmth and everything else in between). Once the routine settled in, and it happened quickly because the routine that we had worked out was heavily based on what they needed. Some routines you read about are centred on giving the parents a break and an easy life (Gina Ford can suck a melon!) but the one we came up with took into account that the babies seemed to want a double-feed within a 2 hour window in the evening, and they always took a nap at certain times of the day anyway so we just took steps to make sure they did what they wanted to at the same time each day. I believe that the whole reason they sleep through the night so regularly, so early is because Holly was so good in putting this routine down. She insisted on setting aside some time for play – whether it is singing to them or letting them explore new objects like wooden spoons and musical instruments. She is so good with the babies, and her philosophy of playtime has really helped them now as they seem so much more curious than they would be without this (“More curious” – holly hates when I use this kind of grammar, but I’m complementing her so she might not mention it when she proof reads). There are some people who don’t like the idea of strict routine, well I wouldn’t mind knowing how you raise triplets without one but ours is flexible to what they want and need, and they do live varied lives not being treated the same and always getting a different activity to do during play each day.

After 6 months, my overwhelming impression is that time goes by too quickly! I have had so much fun with all three of them, Gaius is so chatty and Ayla loves to watch whats going on – and she will let you know what she thinks about what’s happening. Zarek is quieter  but it’s a pleasure to see him develop. This leads me nicely to my last story, and my last piece of advice for new Dad’s (especially of triplets).

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPACT OF DAD. As I said before, I was doing the night feeds before the triplets started sleeping through regularly, but little Zarek was still waking through the night for a while after the other two, he also cried a lot more than the other two, since they had learned that the next feed was never too far away but Zarek had some trouble seeing this. It was very frustrating that he cried a lot, and the night feed with just Zarek was worse than all three because I just couldn’t comfort him like I could the other two. I don’t mind admitting that I would frequently tend to him with a frown and a less than loving touch (that means I wouldn’t fold his blanket neatly for him to sleep on, or throw a cotton wool ball next to him on the changing mat – I know, what a brute!). It was Holly who suggested that maybe he found me unpredictable and that made him uncomfortable – hence all the crying. On her advice, I made a special effort to be nice to him, I smiled while he cried and made smooth and deliberate movements around him. Just about a fortnight later and he’s now much happier. He smiles as much to me as he does to mum, he will sit quietly on my knee and even Holly has seen the difference, to the point where he comforts for me a little better than for Holly now. I’m proud to think that all he needed was a bit of attention and love from his Dad and now he’s fixed!