'Having twins is baby boot camp times two... but I've never had a better surprise'
Instant celebrity status, zero sleep... and a constant sense of wonder. Life looks very different after a double birth. Seven years on, author Jessica Bomford takes stock
Seven years ago, a hesitant sonographer informed my husband and me that our second baby was identical twins. Our shock was seismic. We didn't know any twins or anything about twins. Frankly, we weren't even quite sure how we'd managed it.
Separately and instantly, we came to the same conclusion: we'd need a new car, probably a new house and certainly a new job to pay for it all, which proved to be the case.
We fretted about the impact their arrival would have on our son. We forgot to marvel at the fact that, by some amazing genetic lottery, I was expecting twins.
It took a long time to reach the marvelling stage, but here I have stayed, watching my tiny twins grow into funny, fascinating individuals.
I've never had a better surprise in my life. Here's what I've discovered along the way.
You can survive on zero sleep
I had expected to have very little sleep when Alec and Kit were newborns. I hadn't expected to have none. Not every night, of course - sometimes I grabbed a whole hour's kip in between the crying and feeding.
We soon discovered that the babies were programmed to sleep only when the other was awake, which was not the sort of twin telepathy we'd hoped for.
Their "sleep tag" would have been comical had it not regularly reduced me to a zombie-like shell of my former self. It did get better, but clawing back normal sleep levels took more than two years.
In different circumstances, I'd have given away state secrets within minutes. As it was, I simply wept when someone forgot to put sugar in my tea and wondered at my body's ability to function, albeit imperfectly and very grumpily, on so little sleep.
It's twice as nice
There is something about two babies that more than doubles their gorgeousness. Perhaps it is nature's way of getting us through those first tricky newborn months.
Having only known life with their twin at their side, they are often comforted simply by being together and will lie gazing at each other in a way designed to melt parental hearts. Even very small twins will hold hands or reach out to touch each other.
Seeing them together reinforces the simple fact that twins really are miraculous and, as parents of those little miracles, we are allowed to feel pretty special, too.
Almost seven years on, as I watch my twins engage in a perfectly matched wrestling tussle, or exploding with laughter at a shared joke, my heart swells. Twins were never part of the plan for our family. How boring was that?
You're a celebrity
It is hard to ignore baby twins. And not just because their buggy takes up most of the pavement. The world, it seems, is almost as fascinated by your cute new arrivals as you are and, for a while, the fuss and delight that you generate on your daily trip down the bread aisle can really lift your spirits.
However, it doesn't take long to realise that everyone wants to know exactly the same thing. Are they twins? Are they identical? Do they run in the family? Are they IVF?
These standard questions were sometimes peppered with more personalised observations such as: "He looks like the naughty one." Or, "Oh, ginger hair. Well, at least they're not boys." Aside from the worrying lack of basic biological knowledge that these questions often reveal, strangers can be insensitive, or downright rude. Or lovely. It depends how much sleep you've had.
Being out and about with twins can leave you basking on a parental pedestal, or restraining your inner Rottweiler. Either way, yes, you have got your hands full.
I miss my 'only' child
When the twins were born, my eldest son, Harry, was two. Our world was largely made up of pottering round our local park, investigating rubbish bins and counting red cars. It was so lovely that I tend to remember it in sepia.
Then, suddenly, unexpectedly early, the babies arrived and our family moved on, as all families must.
The tidal wave of noise, fuss and general upheaval that newborn twins generate sweeps everything else to one side and seeing my little boy bobbing uncertainly in the shallows of our family life caused me a huge amount of guilt and grief.
I desperately missed our time alone together - even now, a rarity. Alec and Kit came into a chaotic family and that is how it has stayed, but Harry knew something different and neither he nor I have ever quite recovered from its loss.
They're a great get-out clause
Having twins closes the door on many traditional mummy and baby activities, because you simply don't have enough hands to do with two babies what everyone else is doing with one. Thankfully, swimming classes are the first to hit the skids.
For three years I had a cast iron excuse not to subject myself to the overheated, over-chlorinated hell of my local swimming baths. Not for me the opportunity to stand shivering in thigh-high water, dipping my howling baby into the tepid water while singing "Ring a Ring o' Roses" with other dripping, chirpy mums. (Okay, so I might have done all that with my first son.) Apply the above excuse for guilt-free avoidance of baby salsa, baby buggy boot camp, baby rock climbing or any other activity on which middle-class mothers are encouraged to lavish cash.
'Me' time is a distant dream
With baby twins, you have two forms of "me" time - going to the toilet and having a shower. Once they become mobile, you have constant company. If you're lucky, you'll get toothache and you can go to the dentist for a lie-down.
When my babies were young, time to relax was a distant dream. In fact, it still is. Twice a year (my birthday and Mother's Day) I am assigned a lie-in. The last one ended at 7am with Alec prising open my eyelid, saying: "Are you having a nice sleep, Mummy?"
In lieu of genuine quality time in the early days, my husband and I competed over who had the luxury of undertaking the daily 15-minute round trip to the supermarket for essentials. This is a family/life balance that has yet to swing in my favour.
There's nothing twins won't fight over
A common misconception among relatives is that it is only fair to give twins an identical toy each. The bulkier the better. Apart from the strain that this places on the foundations of your home, it isn't actually necessary. Because whatever one has, the other wants - even if they own exactly the same thing. Somehow, in their twin's hands, the toy becomes irresistibly attractive and must be snatched from them immediately.
There is nothing my twins won't fight over, including who gets to hold my right hand and who has the orange bowl with the scratch on it. Having two of everything simply doubles their options.
Your world shrinks
Opening the door and leaving the house should have been one of my more straightforward daily tasks, but with the risk of stereo shrieking and the probability of a double bottom explosion, "popping out" proved impossible.
As I needed to be back home to feed the babies every three hours (I decided no one was ready for the topless performance that breastfeeding twins involves), my world shrank to my local play area and the only cafe within walking distance into which a double buggy would fit. All spontaneity needed a lot of planning.
Only other parents of twins fully understand the joy, stress, fatigue and sheer volume of nappies that caring for two newborns entails.
It is, therefore, essential to seek them out.
At my local twins' club, amid the cold coffee, glitter and whiffy nappies, I found my life-raft.
We commiserated and laughed, slightly hysterically, at the chaos our lives had become, took it in turns to hold whosever baby was being particularly grizzly and speculated endlessly about when it would start to get easier.
These days, we meet in a bar, agree that life is easier, but accept that the chaos is here to stay.
Jessica Bomford is the author of It's Twins! Now What?, published by Summersdale at £9.99