Joanna, Pablo, Nico and Lola

Name: Joanna 

Children: Pablo (3), Nico & Lola (6 months) 
Location: Levenshulme, Manchester 

Expectations of Motherhood: I guess I expected to be more of an “earth mother” type. I thought I would want to stay at home with my children until they were at least two like my sister did. My mum was a stay at home mum until I was about 11. I also kind of expected to be more soppy about my children, as I am quite a sentimental person. And I thought I’d be the sort to make my own baby food and breastfeed as long as possible. 

Reality of Motherhood: Pablo, my eldest son was a very colicky baby and wanted to be breastfed every two hours around the clock. Apparently this is normal, but that doesn’t stop it from being intolerable! Especially, given that poor Pabs used to scream the whole time he was awake for the first four months of his life. He was a very light sleeper and I had to walk up and down jiggling him for at least 20 minutes after each feed to get him to sleep. Then I’d put him down and he’d wake up and I’d have to start the whole thing again. Even co-sleeping did not work. He would lie next to me and scream in my ear! He wanted to be in my arms and he wanted me to stand and pace the floor, preferably whilst listening to white noise CDs at full volume! My husband and I would fall asleep listening to the sound of Arctic winds sweeping across the icy tundra, only to be awoken one hour later. I was getting a couple of hours of sleep a night and the adage “sleep when he sleeps” used to send me into paroxysms of rage. “But he doesn’t sleep!” I ranted to anyone who would listen. Daytime naps lasted maybe 20 minutes, and I had to walk him round the park in the pushchair to get him to drop off each time. Then he would wake up at the slightest noise and I would have to be on hand to jiggle the pram and get him to sleep again. There was no way I was going to be able to nap when he did. 

I was dying to stop breastfeeding but he refused to take a bottle until one day when he was seven months, I gave him fruit juice in a bottle and he liked the new flavour so much that he took to the bottle. That gave me a bit more freedom. I know breastfeeding is very beneficial to babies but the reality for mums can be a life of 24/7 slavery. At times I felt like my baby was deliberately torturing me. I wasn’t depressed, but I was very angry that this whole burden was foisted on me and only me, and nobody could give me a break. Sleep deprivation made me extremely short-tempered and I would phone my mum to complain or cry down the phone. She’s had it really tough, dealing with me dealing with motherhood! 

I tried taking Pablo to a cranial osteopath, I tried taking him to a specialist, thinking he had reflux, but nothing seemed to help. Then when he was 4 months he smiled and was happy for a bit of the time he was awake. That was a breakthrough. He still wanted to be held and entertained constantly but at least it was possible to make him happy! I did think motherhood would be a bit more of a doss; that I might be able to do some nice home cooking while my baby napped. In reality, I constantly had to hold and entertain him or work to keep him asleep, so there was no blissful period of watching daytime TV and meeting friends for coffee. Just drudgery! Suffice to say when Pabs was nine months old I was very glad to have the chance to go back to work. I’d been a language teacher previously, but I never fancied combining teaching with motherhood. I knew I’d end up using all my patience for other people’s kids and have none left for my own! My husband had started a business about 18 months previously and was struggling with the admin side of things, so I started helping him two days a week, which went up to three days when Pablo was 19 months and four days when he was two, as the business grew. 

I probably sound like I don’t even like my child, but I really really do! My love for my children is like a fact of life, it’s just there, hardwired, like having brown hair (well mostly brown!) It doesn’t make me weepy and sentimental but when I cuddle them I often get a rush straight to my heart. It’s physical, I can actually feel it. I really like Pablo too, which is not the same as loving him. I enjoy his sense of humour, and his imagination. He is also very affectionate, and passionate and a bit of a charmer. Even when he was about eight months old he used to give me these fierce hugs, where he’d press his little face into mine so hard that it hurt! As I get to know Nico and Lola, I like them more and more too. I’m dying to know what’s going on in their little heads! 

I found out I was having twins at my 12 week scan. Before then I’d noticed my bump was bigger than first time round, and I’d been joking that I was going to have triplets, little thinking that a multiple birth could really happen to me! Of course I was shocked, though not as much as my husband, Guille, whose reaction was “Oh Gooood this is the end of our lives!” I was very worried about how I’d cope, especially if I got two babies as colicky as Pablo. I felt a sense of impending doom for most of my pregnancy and I forced myself to get stuff done (potty-training Pablo, buying our first house) because I couldn’t face the thought of doing it later with twins in tow. When I was about 30 weeks pregnant I received a magazine from TAMBA (Twins and Multiple Births Association) which had loads of photos of cute twins and next to each picture how many weeks they were born at: Kira and Kyle 35 weeks, Jordan and Dane, 34 weeks, Mia and Megan 32 weeks – Aargh! I realised my babies were statistically very likely to be born prematurely (i.e. in a couple of weeks’ time) and I still didn’t have a double buggy or any tiny baby clothes (they were likely to be titchy too). So I rushed around buying everything which was fortunate because they were born shortly afterwards at 34 weeks. 

Taking your children home for the first time: I had Pablo at home, so there was no coming home from the hospital. I just hit the ground and kept on running. My labour was very quick, 6 1/2 hours from start to finish. I was talking to my contractions going, “Come on pain, do your stuff, open me up and let Pablo into the world!” It was like leaning into the wind. I’d wanted to have pain relief, but because it was all so quick, I didn’t get the chance.

It was 11pm on boxing day when I went into labour. Everyone tells you to just chillax and carry on as you were until the pain gets too much, so I just kept on watching Peep Show, then tried to go to bed, though of course I couldn’t sleep. Then at about two in the morning I woke Guille up and told him he should start inflating the birthing pool. He spent ages pumping the thing up and filling it, which was no easy matter as the water tank wasn’t large enough to provide sufficient hot water, so he had to run a hose from the electric shower and boil the kettle and numerous saucepan. We’d had a dress rehearsal, so we were prepared for all that. The only thing was, once it was full, he realised he hadn’t put the liner in, which meant it wasn’t hygienic enough to use, so he had to pump all the water out and start again! Cue some choice swearwords in Spanish! Meanwhile I was on all fours on the bathroom floor, groaning.

By the time he had refilled the pool, it was about 5am and the midwife had arrived. “Don’t worry, you probably won’t have baby till about lunchtime tomorrow!” she breezed as she started to examine me. 
“Can I have some gas and air?” I pleaded. 
“Maybe later,” she said, “You’re doing so well with your breathing!” 
With me in agony, she took my blood pressure, felt the baby’s position, and lastly had a look to see how dilated I was. “Oh, I think you’re about to have this baby!” she said brightly. Hmm that’s what I thought! “Do you want to go down to the pool?” 
I did, so she nipped out to get her equipment, but while she was gone I got this overwhelming urge.
“I’m pushing!” I roared to Guille who was still twiddling with the birthing pool downstairs. “Get her to come back!”

Despite underestimating how far on I was, she was a very nice midwife and helped me decide when to push so as not to tear. I got on all fours and roared and thrutched, it was all very primal. Guille was pretty awed. Then Pablo was born onto the bed, looking like some kind of purple grub, but strong as hell, pushing himself along. Guille remembers feeling bad for him, thinking, “When are they going to pick him up?” He was there for seconds all alone, before he was scooped up for the skin-to-skin with me. The second midwife arrived after an hour or so (there are meant to be two of them at a home birth, one for you and one for the baby, but me and Pabs were a bit too quick off the mark.) 

After they left it was a bit weird, living in this twilight world of constant waking. He was jaundiced so I had to feed him every two hours (timed from the beginning not the end of the last feed) and midwives came to visit every couple of days to check on us. One of them made me feel awful for giving him a dummy “A breastfed baby doesn’t need a dummy, you’re stopping him from feeding and getting the fluids he needs.” I ended up bawling my eyes out that I wasn’t doing right by my baby. Although things didn’t go entirely according to plan, I would definitely count Pablo’s birth as a good experience. I felt in control of my body and of the whole process. 

The twins’ birth was the polar opposite. Twin births are considered high risk, so it’s not possible to have a home birth. I suppose you could if you were very radical and got in a private midwife, but if someone tells me my baby could be in danger, I’m not going to argue. Nevertheless, I was keen to have as natural a birth as possible, and as both babies were head down, that seemed reasonably likely. 

The labour was horrid because the contractions came so close together right from the start. They were about three minutes apart from the beginning and rapidly escalated to a state of constant agony. Meanwhile instead of crawling around and responding to the pain, I was laid on my back and strapped to a monitor while various doctors and midwives desperately tried to find a trace of Lola’s heartbeat. They brought in a portable ultrasound machine and scanned me, only to find that one of my good little head down babies had migrated into a transverse position. Naughty Lola! Then they checked how I was progressing and this weird male nurse who looked like Lurch gave me an unwholesome grin and told me I was fully dilated. This precipitated a frenzy of activity. “OK mum, we need to take you to the delivery suite, we might need to do a C-Section or we might have to deliver twin 1 vaginally and twin 2 by C-section.” They all call you mum, which is incredibly annoying, (I am not your mother OK?!) but seems to be NHS policy. I was raced through corridors on my wheeled bed and was just about compos mentis enough to let them know that, no thanks, I really didn’t want scars in two places and could they please just get both babies out by C section if possible, ta.

Meanwhile, poor Guille was given a gown to put on, then he made a quick film on his iphone of him saying “So, this is it, ready for the birth, let’s go and meet our twins!” Then when he emerged, everyone had disappeared! He found the theatre where I was, but he wasn’t allowed in because it was an emergency C section, and they had to give me a general anaesthetic. I just remember there being about twelve people in the room. A doctor was trying to explain the implications of this document I had to sign, but I was in so much pain I said “It’s OK, just give me the pen!” I had a carbon copy to keep and when I read it weeks later I realised I’d basically given them carte blanche to get my babies out by whatever means necessary: C-section, forceps, ventouse or any combination of the above. Under the circumstances I feel very fortunate that it went so well.

The anaesthetist warned me he would have to put pressure on my windpipe to stop me regurgitating the pizza I’d innocently troughed just a few hours previously, and I woke up hours later, shivering so much my teeth chattered and incredibly thirsty. I went into labour at about 8.00pm and the babies were delivered just after midnight. Lola weighed 4lb 4 and Nico 3lb 14. They were carted straight off to the neonatal unit, but I was informed that they were both doing well. Unlike Pablo, I didn’t get to see them till the following afternoon. It was nice on the maternity ward. I’ve never been in such a female dominated environment, (a sorocracy!), but they do try to squeeze you out as soon as they can see you’re OK. I was told five days, but after three they were already asking if I felt ready to leave. Having your babies cared for by specialist nurses for the first three weeks of their lives has a lot of advantages. eg. you can actually get some sleep and recover from the birth, instead of plunging headlong into the hideous world of sleepless nights. Visiting them, helping with tube feeds, changing their nappies, all feels like a privilege instead of a chore. I was planning to try breastfeeding them , because I thought it was only fair after Pablo had bagged himself so much boob, so I was expressing every couple of hours. They have a pumping room for this purpose, which makes you feel distinctly bovine, but you do meet lots of other friendly cows in there, and a kind of blitz-spirit reigns. It would make a great Radio 4 play. In any case, we found out that our twins were quite lucky to be born at 34 weeks, and they made very good progress. Only two weeks after they were born we moved house, which was pretty hellish, but at least we didn’t have any screaming babies to deal with on removal day as they were still in hospital. 

The neonatal staff were incredibly lovely and it turned out to be a very positive experience for us. Before we brought the twins home, I roomed in with them for a night, which turned into a nightmarish breastfeeding marathon as they took it in turns to feed for two minutes before falling asleep and waking hungry five minutes later, and this throughout the whole night. It took me right back to the darkest days with Pablo, a place I was really not willing to revisit, so after that I decided to bottle-feed them a combination of expressed milk and formula. I kept it up for about two months, but my milk supply dwindled and the health visitors were acting like I was a saint, so I thought, I don’t need to be that good! And promptly gave up. 

Motherhood this time round has been a very different experience and mainly because of my mother-in-law, who serendipitously retired the week the twins were born, packed up and shipped in to our new house. She’s been here ever since. She has made it bearable, helping with the sleepless nights and generally giving the babies and Pablo lots of love and attention, as well as doing plenty of cooking and housework. She is great and we get on very well most of the time. She’s Spanish, from Madrid and doesn’t speak any English, but I am fluent in Spanish because I lived in Barcelona with my husband for a couple of years, so we can communicate just fine. It’s also great that Pablo has picked up a lot more Spanish with her around, and he surprises us every day with new phrases, many of which make him sound like a granny!
 He’ll do stuff like hold up one of Lola’s new outfits and go (in Spanish) “Aw isn’t this gorgeous! And look, it’s got trousers as well!” 

There are moments of tension sometimes, mainly because I can be such a cow when I get no sleep. I try to be assertive and explain our way of doing things, and she tries to go along with our choices about how to bring the children up. The main thing is that there is a lot of goodwill on each side. My Mum also comes over several times a week to help out and my Dad has helped us so much in our new house, building a ramp for our enormous buggy, repressurising the boiler and all kinds of other tasks that we have no idea how to do. If we didn’t have so much help from our parents we would have to get an au pair and spend a fortune on handymen, which obviously we couldn’t afford.

The best/worst advice: The best advice is use your instincts, accept all help offered, and don’t beat yourself up about not being perfect.

The worst advice is to do with making a month’s food in advance and freezing it, and similar over-organised stuff.

The hardest parts of being a mother: Dealing with toddler tantrums and resistance to every step of daily routine, whilst simultaneously dealing with two babies with colic or teething, after a sleepless night which I know will be followed by another sleepless night. Feeling rage that my children could be so mean to me as to never let me have any sleep. Losing my temper with people I love, seeing my husband lose his temper. Never having any time for myself or quality time with my husband.

The best parts of being a mother: Making babies giggle with their cute little gurgly laughs, kissing their lovely baby skin, watching the twins start to take notice of each other, seeing my children’s personalities develop. Enjoying toddler humour:” Harry Pottermus”, “Grandad’s a dustbin!” Enduring toddler love including bisses which are bitey kisses (and quite disgusting!) Seeing my husband being a lovely dad. Sharing a look with each other when one of the kids does something cute. Reading to Pablo and discovering some fantastic kids’ stories, such as the Dr Seuss one about the pale green pants with nobody inside ’em!

Has becoming a mother changed you: I am the same person. I just have a lot more responsibilities than I ever thought possible, and I’ve had to become more organised and have routines whereas I’ve always preferred to do things randomly. I am more irascible, but I always had that in me. It just comes to the fore more because I have more triggers.

Hopes for your family: I have so many hopes for us. It’s not just about being happy, you know! First up, I want everyone sleeping through the night by the end of 2013. 

I hope the kids will get on well like I do with my sisters, that they will appreciate each other’s personalities and rarely fight. I want them to speak fluent Spanish and appreciate their Spanish roots and culture, I want them to survive the teenage years unscathed and unbullied. I’d like them to be more financially savvy than me. I’d like them to learn to play musical instruments. I want them to be hardworking but funny and creative. And I want them to be able to talk to us about stuff that’s bothering them. So, not much to ask then!

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: It’s easy to feel guilty all the time, because there’s always something you could be doing better, but it’s OK to be just good enough to get by, and sometimes being just good enough requires actual heroism, for which you can give yourself a little pat on the back. When you are not good enough, get over it and get on with it. You are only human after all.

Get a dustbuster, and a tumble dryer and a dishwasher. Get a cleaner if you can afford it. Cut the corners you need to cut to remain sane. 

//’s first roll captured during the shoot)

2 thoughts on “Joanna, Pablo, Nico and Lola

  1. Hi Joanna – I met you a couple of times when Paulo was little, same age as my son Arthur… think it was after the library in Withington?? A few of us went for coffee at Folk in W Dids… Had no idea you had such a tough time when he was little! Loved reading your story, brought a tear to my eye a few times! Can't believe you have twins now as well! Must be such hard work but lovely too, which just about sums up all of motherhood eh?! xx


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