By Reem Gaafar
At the tender age of 35, and after more than 10 years of career building, relative financial independence and my life revolving around myself, I was blessed with twin boys. I am unable to clearly describe the experience, as 7 months into it, it is still somewhat of a blur. As I counted down the days to when I would close the door behind the last of my family members and come face to face with the reality of being alone, one thing was obvious: failure to prepare was preparing to fail. I would have to organize my time and my life in a way that would accommodate childcare, cleaning, cooking, writing and studying (haha!).
First, I started watching as many organization videos as I could find on YouTube. The trick was to write everything down and put them in plain sight (preferably colourful bullet points): meal plans, pumping sessions, naps, bedtime routines, cleaning routines, shopping lists and everything else. I spent a considerable time shopping for organizing supplies, stationary and diaries, and proceeded to watch more videos on how to make your own organizing things when I failed to find anything I liked.
Then, I broke down all tasks to make them easier. I bought groceries readily prepped and distributed before putting away. I bought foil containers that I would fill with cooked meals and freeze, ready to be thrown into the oven an hour before lunchtime with no washing up. I kept cleaning supplies all over the house to be easily picked up and used whenever necessary. I divided the laundry and did one load every day.
However, housekeeping and childcare is a continuous chore that never really ends. The house always needs cleaning. The fridge always needs revision. The clothes always need to be washed, dried, folded and put away. Meals need to be cooked, diapers need to be changed, medicine needs to be administered, and the babies need to be fed All. The. Time.
Two months into this, I realized that I was failing miserably. Nothing was working, even with hired help. We were barely making it to bedtime, after which I would be a wreck, mentally and physically exhausted with a million things to do that I couldn’t do during the day, and which had to be done before I could crawl into bed, and which usually didn’t get done. And we would do it all over again the next day (after waking up three thousand times during the night).
What was even more difficult was admitting that I had failed. I mean, there were 24 whole hours in the day. Most of these tasks – like throwing a load of laundry into the washing machine – didn’t take more than a few minutes. The online twin support groups, that I was in, were full of women who had 3, 4 and even 5 kids, no help (other than the occasional husband), and even had full time jobs, and they were managing just fine. And I simply couldn’t imagine how the rest of my life was going to be. If I would ever be half as productive and independent as I used to be. And no one seemed to understand this. That is, until I spoke with a friend who surprised me by knowing exactly what I was going through, even though she seemed to have her life in perfect order.
Everyone talks about women’s mental health after giving birth, but mostly just in the context of post partum depression. PPD is a common condition affecting 1 in every 10 women giving birth. It is mainly a result of hormonal imbalances related to pregnancy and childbirth, and ranges from baby blues to outright psychosis. The good news is its manageable. The bad news is its difficult to diagnose, because it comes in the form of things that are common with a new baby, like difficulty sleeping.
Not many people talk about what comes after all the dust has settled: 5, 6, 10 months after the baby. The isolation and the choking 24 hour responsibility. How sitting at home all day hearing nothing but dadadadadada can drive you insane. How losing all control of your time and being at the mercy of those little ones’ naps, makes you feel like driftwood. How it is almost impossible to plan anything and stick to it. How things that were so simple, mundane and effortless before become feats of divine strength and persistence: like reading a book/article/paper, watching an uninterrupted episode or movie, drinking a hot cup of tea, or even making a bowl of cereal and eating it within a 3 hour period. And let’s not even talk about writing or studying, or anything at all involving mental energy. And on top of it all, there is the constant terror that you are in charge of keeping these babies alive – feeding them enough, keeping them warm (but not too warm!), fending off the constant criticism and interference, trying to protect them from everyone and everything, and raising them to be responsible, productive and good citizens of the world.
Of course, the vast majority of people compare their experiences with singletons with having twins, and how much more difficult could it really be? Let’s not even go into that. Suffice to say: you really cannot even compare.
Having kids is an indescribable blessing, but it will change your life completely, and the experience while joyful in some aspects is tumultuous and uncontrollable in many others. And for people (women mainly) who are used to being in charge of their lives, it can be quite overwhelming. For a significant period of your life, you will not be in control.
And that’s okay.
Its okay to not be in control, to be overwhelmed, and to feel like the insides of your brain are peeling off from the exhaustion and exasperation and helplessness. Eventually, it will get better. How soon is kind of up to you, but not completely in your hands. Because let’s face it: babies are weird and self-centered and needy. They’re not going to negotiate with you at 4 in the morning, if they’re hungry or need a hug. You’re just going to have to deliver.
The important thing to remember, though, is that: IT. IS. OK.
You got this.