Nija, Thejal and Tharoon

Name: Nija

Children: Thejal & Tharoon, 2yrs and 4 months (Boy/Girl Twins)

Location: Levenshulme

Expectations of Motherhood: My expectations of motherhood were similar to my expectations of relationships & marriage: hard work. And to be committed to it – maybe it’s a South Asian thing, but in my view, there’s no point denying where you are in life. If you have young children, you’re going to spend most of your time looking after them. It’s a lot of work, and it’s hard, and it’s even harder to look after them in a caring and gentle way that nurtures their independence and personalities. I knew there would be days when I hated it, and days that couldn’t be better. So far, there haven’t been many days that I’ve hated it – hours, yes. But not a whole day yet! 

My sister is 8 years older than me and a devoted mum. Having seen how lovely my niece and nephew are and what a kind and gentle childhood they had, I knew that if I ever had kids, I’d want to give them something like that, as opposed to what me and my sister had growing up.

When I thought about getting pregnant, like most people, I thought I’d only get pregnant with one. I imagined a home birth, breastfeeding going swimmingly, co-sleeping till they wanted to stop, and strapping them to my back until they were teenagers. Kidding, but only a little. I always joke that my birth didn’t go to plan, because my birth plan was to have one baby. Finding out we were pregnant with two was daunting and caused immediate anxiety.

Reality of Motherhood: Much harder work than I thought! 
Twin pregnancy meant a lot of complications – I ended up with a planned section, no home birth, and breastfeeding was incredibly incredibly tough. 
My mum had to come from America and move in with us for 6 months! We were so lucky that my husband was able to change his job so he mostly works from home now. 

We did manage to exclusively breastfeed, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of top ups and pumping and round the clock feeds.

We did co-sleep, but around 18 months, it became clear they weren’t sleeping well at all. I didn’t think it would be them not sleeping well in our bed! 

And I did babywear, often with just one, as my husband or mum or friends or in-laws or doulas took the other – but as they got bigger and I got more confident, I started tandem wearing them, which was great fun. They’re too big now – I do think if I only had one, I’d still wear them on my back, but I can’t do just one. If one’s up, the other wants up, too! So they have to walk… 

Taking your children home for the first time: Wonderful. Our stay in hospital was spectacularly bad, so we were very very glad to be rid of the place. My sister had come to be with us for their first weeks, so she looked after all of us. I stared into their beautiful eyes, but I remember feeling like I didn’t have enough eyes to look at both of them at once. Thejal made such funny faces in her sleep and Tharoon looked like a little Zen master with his legs crossed. He still crosses his legs when he’s relaxed, like when we go swimming and float him on his back. During pregnancy, we were super worried about Thejal’s feet, because they had seen talipes in the ultrasounds, and we didn’t know if it was the “no big deal, a little physio” kind or the “will need to wear braces for years” kind. We got lucky, it was no big deal. I remember looking at her little tiny folded up feet, touching them all the time. 

The best/worst advice:
Best: Listen to yourself. Do what feels right. Don’t listen to any other advice.

Worst: All the advice from a generation ago that doesn’t account for new scientific research. Give cool boiled water to a 3 month old. Rusks for teething. “You won’t need to pump, you’ve got two.” That wasn’t right at all – I had two, yes, but they were both tongue-tied and not feeding effectively. 
Sleep when you’re pregnant, because you won’t get sleep after – how irritating this is to hear when you can’t sleep for the hunger and heartburn of pregnancy! “Sleep when they sleep” – yes, of course, and cook when the baby cooks and pay the online bills when the baby does, too.  

The hardest parts of being a mother: Living with the choices you made, remembering why you made them, and (trying not to spend time) wondering about the other timelines. 

The best parts of being a mother: I think the thing is that you have the kids – and then, if you pay attention, they teach you everything else. They teach you what they need and what they can do. They teach you who you are and what you can do and what you will do. 

They’ve taught me to respect myself and my time more than I ever did before. They’ve taught me to take care of my sleep, because I won’t get to sleep in at the weekend to ‘catch up.’ They’ve taught me that my body is wonderful, and when they rub my arms and my stomach with their little hands, they are full of love for me in a way that I have never been. They’ve taught me that love.

Has becoming a mother changed you? Of course. I think, if you are paying attention, it’s impossible for parenthood to NOT change you. I was a freelance radio producer, busy with work and documentaries and decorating our house and going on holidays with my husband. Now, we have two bonkers housemates who almost never take the recycling out (though lately, they have rather gotten into it – I’m struggling to keep up with the demand for recyclables!) and can’t even wipe their own butts. It’s a bit intense. 

I’ve spent the last two years changing every day, growing along with them. When they were 3 months old, I remember telling a friend that I was hoping my body would go back after a few years. She said, “Oh, honey, there is no going back.” And immediately, I knew she was right. Even if one day my arms look like they used to, there is no forgetting the strength your arms felt that night you rocked your child for hours because they had a cold. That this body once had three skeletons inside it, that this body, where once I sustained only myself, sustained three people and made enormous accommodation for their growing. You can’t go back to only looking after yourself – even if you look like your old self. 

Has your perspective on work changed since becoming a mother?
Not really – my parents worked A LOT when I was growing up and many of my childhood memories are of loneliness and wishing I hadn’t been left in the house by myself. I always knew in my heart that if I was going to have children, I was going to put them first. Work, which I love, would have to come second, at least until they were older and had more of their own lives to attend to. I never intended to work until they were at least 2 and could go to some sort of childcare. I’m hoping to start working again soon.

Hopes for your family: That we can foster resilience and kindness in all of us. That their childhood is a childhood. That we can enjoy the hard days and the easy ones, because it is all so fleeting. That they get many many more years with their grandparents. That one day, they will sleep past 545am.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Get properly checked for tongue-tie. Apart from that, listen to yourself and do what you think is right. And get them blinking vaccinated.  

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