Thursday, 23 April 2015

Mummy Time #37: Amber Allen

Before I spent 99% of my social media life on Instagram, I used to be a chronic over-sharer on Twitter. I don't share as much as I used to over there, but when I'm feelin' it, it's like a home from home for my thoughts. I met Amber over there when I dabbled in connecting with other mum bloggers a little while back. I love Amber's candor and her straight-talking-ness so I hope you enjoy her post. She's also kindly shared some photography tips as the photos on her fantastic LGBT parenting blog (Goblinchild.com) are beautiful! Oh and did I mention she has twins? She has twins. Who were five months old at the time of writing.

Mummy:

Who are you?
Hi!  I'm Amber and I'm a photographer and blogger over at my website, Goblin Child.  I'm also one of two mums to the 'goblin twins', Balthazar and Lysander.  They were born on the 30th October 2014, narrowly escaping a Halloween birthday!  I live in a leafy suburb just outside of London with the twins, my partner Kirsty and our 'firstborn', our gorgeous little dog.

What do you do for a living?
I manage the logistics behind some brilliant minds at an oil and gas company.

How long did you take for maternity leave?
I took twelve weeks to enjoy the twins and my partner gave up work entirely to raise them.  We had always been in agreement that I would have the pregnancy and birth experience and our children would be genetically 'mine', so she would manage the 'nurture' aspect of developing our tiny people into kind and functional adults.

How did you feel when you returned to work and how did it change things?
I'll take my Bad Mummy Award now... it was fine!  I was fine.  Everybody was tremendously sympathetic of course and so I milked it for all that it was worth, visibly drooping whenever anybody mentioned the children and pointedly using pictures of them for my desktop background.  Actually though, it's been quite nice to return to work and have grown-up conversations about things unrelated to babies, to wear nice clothes without the fear that somebody will vomit on them, and to have time in the day where I can pee ALL BY MYSELF with nobody screaming at me.  Oh - and people very rarely pull my hair in the office!  It's blissful.
I'm sure that I would have found it much harder had I been leaving the twins with somebody other than their mum, however!  I love being able to relax in the knowledge that she's at home with them and all is well.  She is a tremendous mother.

How do you manage the work/life balance?
Honestly?  Work comes first.  It has to come first.  My salary is the driving force behind our lifestyle. My spectacular other half, Kirsty, is a marvellous stay-at-home mum who keeps everything ticking along on the home front.  It's only so easy to skip off to work in the morning because I know that all will be fine at home.

How do you get things done?!
We've cut all 'dead time' out of our days.  Everything is scheduled.  With twins, it's usually too much for Kirsty to do more than run the laundry and do a little housework during the day and so I do all of our shopping online and have it delivered, and I always cook enough food to last us several meals.  When I make my own packed lunch for work, I make another one for Kirsty so that she can just grab it and go.

Kirsty, the babies and the dog all walk me to the station in the morning and home from the station in the evenings, carving out a whole hour of 'us time' in the day to chat and connect.  The boys turn into little hellions if they're not asleep by eight and after they go down, we try to make sure to spend time together again.  Time before bedtime is mostly spent playing with the boys, although I'll admit to being naughty and checking in on social media far too often!
I spend approximately an hour/day on the train during the week and try to get my blog posts drafted up then.  I do a lot of scheduling of posts for later dates as I can't usually guarantee that I'll be online to post them at the optimum time.

How are you?
I'm okay!  And Kirsty is okay.  We're pretty tired but we're not struggling.  I think it helps that we had ten years of being 'us' before that, together and wildly in love.  We can cope with sacrificing a lot in terms of our relationship because we have those memories to fall back on.
Also: I'd be struggling a LOT more if I had to stay at home.  And Kirsty would be a wreck if she had to return to work and leave them.  We both got to do what is best for us!

What do you do to relax?
Ha.  Before children, I used to read widely, ride horses and enjoy embarking on crazy photography projects.  These days I have children.  My 'downtime' is the office!

What do you do when you have time to yourself?
I have a full-time job, a blog, a partner whom I adore, a dog who is used to being the recipient of most of our attention and baby twins.  I don't really HAVE time to myself any more!

How does a typical day go?
07.30: We're all up.  Actually we've probably been up for a while but this is the last possible minute in which I can roll out of bed, get ready and still get to work on time!
08.00: We leave the house.  It's a 30-minute walk to the station followed by 25-minutes on the train, meaning that I get to work at near enough exactly...
09.00: I fling myself into the office and check myself anxiously for signs of motherhood - leaking breasts (they STILL do that!), patches that may or may not be related to baby sick, etc.
12.30: Lunch time.  Kirsty has probably sent me a picture or two of the little ones.  We check in and discuss our days.  Then back to work.
17.00: I grab my bag and run like the wind for the train.  My train leaves every thirty minutes and so if I miss this one, that's a precious 30 mins before bedtime lost.
17.35: Everybody meets me at the station.  We walk home together through the park.  Usually I've made dinner in advance, so I'll throw a load of laundry in the machine and unload the dishwasher whilst I reheat dinner.  We usually eat on the floor whilst entertaining babies and dog.
19.00: We start winding down for bed-time.  Pyjamas, baths, bed and a final bottle for the little chaps.
20.00: OH GOD WHY ARE THE BABIES NOT ASLEEP.  Unless they are asleep.  Assuming the latter, it's showers and bed-time for grown-ups!  We snuggle under the duvet and make an effort to spend time together, even if it's just distracted chatting whilst clicking around on the laptop.
22.00: Our wild days are over - we're usually asleep!

Pregnancy:


How was your pregnancy?
LOVELY.  It was wonderful.  I loved almost every last minute of it.  I felt rather nauseous in the first trimester and actually lost quite a bit of weight but aside from that I felt better than I ever had before.  The boys grew beautifully and were healthy throughout, and I was able to work right up until I chose to take maternity leave at 37 weeks.
Unfortunately I developed obstetric cholestasis after going overdue (by twin standards - 37 weeks is 'term') and was induced at 38 weeks.

Any cravings?
Red wine and steak!  This vegetarian was NOT happy.

Did you find out what you were having?
We found out at seventeen weeks.  I had actually been away all by myself to a little Greek island called Aegina to stay with family for two weeks, so I flew back into Heathrow on the day, went straight in to work and then Kirsty met me for a private ultrasound at a Harley Street clinic that evening.
I had always 'known' that we were having two boys but everybody else thought that it would be a boy and a girl, so it took a few days to get our heads around the reality of it. 

How did you decide on your names and you already have the names ready before they arrived?
The boys are Balthazar Octavian Percival and Lysander Edmund Odysseus.  We agonised over the names from the minute that the pregnancy test came up positive but were more or less decided by about seven months in that the boys would be Balthazar and Lysander.
Other names on the list were Rupert, Ptolemy, Merriwether (which Kirsty nixed - I was so sad!) and Jolyon. 

How did your prepare for the twins' arrival?
The internet!  I read a huge amount on the internet.  Pregnancy and birth have always fascinated me so I knew a lot already, and solidified my knowledge by exchanging information with other intelligent and well-read women and researching on medical pages.

How was your labour?
It was a disaster.
I was talked into an induction at 38 weeks which I really didn't want.  Whilst on the induction ward, I watched the woman in the bed next to me progress to eight centimetres screaming, crying, vomiting and begging for help that she never received because the midwives were too busy to check on her.  Eventually a passing consultant noticed how much blood she was losing, at which point she was more or less assaulted during a cervical check where she screamed for them to stop and they told her quite roughly to lie still, before pronouncing her at eight centimetres but haemmorhaging and whisking her off for an emergency caesarean.
I spent a miserable night awake because I was in too much pain to sleep and dehydrating because they were too busy to bring me water and we weren't allowed into the kitchens.  After I had to be rehydrated by IV, I threatened to sue them for medical negligence - in my defence I was quite emotional at the time! - and demanded a caesarean, which I received.
I really didn't want a caesarean and quite honestly am still furious that a fairly serious abdominal surgery felt like the ONLY way to get those babies out of me without anybody being harmed in the process.  I would have insisted on a home birth had I known how busy and understaffed the hospital would be and how neglected the labouring women were.
The caesarean itself was fine.  I hadn't eaten or drunk anything in almost two days at that point, nor slept, so it's all a bit of a blur.

Baby:

How did you get on with breastfeeding?
The hospital mis-processed our paperwork so rather than recording as having been discharged, they recorded us as moving to the Special Care Unit.  Consequently we didn't have a community midwife come out to us until I called them on day four to ask where the hell they were.
Unfortunately we'd all missed Balthazar's awful tongue tie that meant that whilst he could latch on (just) he wasn't actually getting any milk.  Everybody talks about 'sleepy newborns' so we had mistaken his drifting in and out of consciousness for him being a typical sleepy newborn (and thought that the other one was just a particularly alert one).  The community midwife might have picked up that there was a problem sooner, had we seen one, but of course we didn't.
We ended up being rushed back to hospital on day four via A&E and spent another three days trying to rehydrate the baby.  My supply crashed - not helped by them lending me a breast pump with only one fecking suction cup - and it never quite recovered.
I spent almost three months pumping and feeding them by bottle and then gave up.

Do the twins have a feeding routine?
We've always fed on demand - I can't imagine that letting a baby scream with hunger is a pleasant experience for mother OR child.

What do the twins eat?
They're on formula now.  They have SMA Comfort which we chose because it is vegetarian-friendly.

What was your approach to weaning?
We haven't started weaning yet.  I did drop a bowl of trifle on Balthazar's head once though - does that count?!

Do the twins have a sleep routine?
We're pretty dreadful at routines, to be honest!  They drop off to sleep when they're tired.  The only one that we're militant about is bed-time, which begins at seven.  It's only come about because we noticed that they morph into tiny gremlins if they're not asleep by eight though!

How do you keep the twins entertained?
Play.  We play CONSTANTLY. Kirsty plays a lot more than I do, as I have my escape route of work.  They love singing and active play and we have literally hundreds of toys.  At the moment anything that can be held and chewed on is a hit, and they love toys that make noise.

What calms the twins down when they’re having a freak out?
Cuddles and singing, or else quiet time watching their mobile.  We have a lovely Amazon-themed mobile that revolves and plays songs, and the 'leaves' lift and fall in time with the music.  The boys are utterly obsessed with it! 
They've always loved to be worn in the wrap and five minutes of being tucked up close to Kirsty tends to lull them into sleep.

What are your go-to resources for information about the babies when you're worried?
Honestly?  I ask Twitter!  Or my internet 'mummy group'.  Somebody always has a useful link or anecdote to share.

How do your other children get along with the twins? Were there any difficulties with the adjustment to the new arrival and how have they adapted? 
My other 'child' is a dog.  And yes, I know that she's not REALLY a child and I didn't give birth to her but she's an irreplacable member of the family in the same way as the twins are. 
I was quite concerned as to how she would adjust to sharing her people with two new little ones.  Actually, it was fine.  We brought them home and allowed her to sniff at them as much as she wanted but taught her that touching them was not allowed - much like how she had been taught to interact with the cats.  She's very good these days and extremely respectful of their space - she won't take food off of their bodies (I drop food on them with disconcerting regularity!) and if they reach out to stroke her soft fur she looks at me as if to say "Well I'M not touching THEM, mummy!".
She's an older lady with a traumatic past and doesn't really know how to play, so we're delighted on the rare occasions that she shows a fleeting interest in the boys' toys.  The twins will be taught as they grow up that if the dog wants a toy, they're to hand it over!

Paraphernalia:

Do the babies have a favourite toy?
They love EVERYTHING at the moment.  The most recent amusement was a green envelope, which we flapped in Balthazar's general direction for a full ten minutes to earth-splitting giggles.

What was your most recent baby-related purchase?
We're trying to be good at the moment, having just spent a horrifying 1.5k on a three-day hospital stay for the dog.  That said, Tootsa MacGinty just sent me a voucher for £15 off of a £50 spend and I think that I'm about to be tempted into buying some adorable jungle-themed clothing for the boys.

What has been the most useful thing you've bought/ been given/ discovered?
The Gro Egg.  Kirsty and I are notoriously bad at judging temperature - she runs too hot and I'm perpetually freezing!  Using the Gro Egg to tell us the room temperature AND whether it was optimum for the babies meant that they (and we) got a lot more sleep in those first few months.

What are the twins’ mode of transport?
We alternate between wearing them and using the pram. They ride in the pram more often these days but for the first four months of their lives, being worn was their favourite thing ever and the best way to keep them calm and happy when out and about.  Kirsty favours the Girasol wraps but we also have a Little Frog of which she's quite fond.
We use the Little NipperOut and About 360 pram, which we chose primarily because it is purple.  It's an excellent, lightweight choice for us but will persist in getting flat tyres which makes cross-country dog walks a little tricky.

What are your absolute essentials when you go out?
Aside from the obvious?  The camera.  Kirsty grumbles sometimes because every outing is treated as a photo opportunity but I think it's lovely that so many memories are recorded for the boys to enjoy when they're older!

Where are your favourite places to shop for baby clothes?
Oh but I have so many favourites!
Tootsa MacGinty is a strong contender for their charming, playful designs.  The people behind the company are lovely too.  The Ava & Luc horse-themed bodysuits get a LOT of wear in my pony-obsessed house. Or if you don't have time to shop around, you can't go wrong with a massive John Lewis order! We also buy a lot of Scandinavian baby wear - we're definitely fans of bright colour!  I love Mini Rodini, Maxomorra, Polarn o.Pyret and Tutta.

Advice:

If you could give your pregnant self some advice, what would it be?
That 'newborn sleepiness' didn't mean 'practically impossible to wake the baby' would have been a good one.  If you can't wake your newborn up to feed, parents, something is seriously wrong.

What's the best advice or most useful tip that anyone's given you about parenting?
Fellow parents have always been generous with their knowledge and somebody always seems to say exactly what I need to hear at the time.  When I was pregnant and worried that our sons would resent us later in life because we had chosen to bring them into the world without a father, many people took the time to tell me that it's love that makes a family, not a penis and a vagina as a parenting unit. Love. It meant the world at the time and still does.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share with other mums or expectant mums?
Every stage passes.  Yes, there are dreadful and exhausting phases but just as you begin to understand how a sleep-deprived parent might snap, it's over.  You just have to hang on in there and it does get better and you WILL sleep again, I promise.

Thank you for sharing, Amber!

If you'd like to read more about Amber, check out her blog. I really like these posts:

And here are Amber's photography tips:
  1. Invest in the best DSLR body that you can, particularly if you plan to use it indoors.  A full-frame camera will mean that you can use it in tighter spaces and the more expensive cameras are better at dealing with indoor (lack of) light.  Contrary to popular advice, you can skimp on lenses - the 50mm f1.8 is an excellent cheap lens, and the upgrade to the f1.4 is still only about £300.
  2. Use photography to tell your story.  Photograph things that matter to your family - favourite toys, favourite clothes.  Things that you associate with your family.  The looking-at-the-camera-and-smiling pictures are nice, but they only tell a fraction of your story.
  3. Utilise perspective.  Don't just hover over your children with a camera.  Get down on their level to show the world as they see it.  Photograph from lower than them to show how they're growing.  Capture their tiny hands and fingernails - the small details - as well as the overall picture.
  4. Make an effort to document your day-to-day lives but don't live behind the camera.  Put it down and play.  Spend time with your family for the sake of spending time with them, not just capturing memories for your blog or social media.
  5. Get in the picture with your children!  Don't let them forget that you were there too.
Thanks again, Amber!

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2 comments

  1. Another lovely Mummy time! Amber & Kirsty make being twin mamas look so easy! Plus if I was half the photographer Amber is I'd be happy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ahh, I loved reading this Mummy Time post - I think Amber is very inspirational and I love her blog.

    They are the sweetest family. :)

    Jenna at Tinyfootsteps xx

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. It really means a lot! Nicki x

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