When the world watched Rihanna’s historic Super Bowl performance last week – and watched THAT pregnancy reveal – it was hard not to wince as we all did the maths between her first and second pregnancy. Can you imagine giving birth to a new baby right around the time your other baby turns one – then having to juggle two babies, on separate schedules? How would your brain and body cope? Would you get any sleep? Would it be dividing your attention or doubling your love? And what are ‘Irish twins’? We chat to Wellington mother Carmen Taylor about her experience.
Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences. We’re looking at everything from fertility, trying to conceive, pregnancy, the fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, children’s mental health and teenagers, fertility issues and everything in between!
Hi Carmen! What’s the age gap between your sons?
Teddy turns two later this year and Xavi will turn one a fortnight later. Xavi was a little premature so, basically, there’s a year between them.
Did you plan so short a gap or was it a surprise?
It was definitely a surprise, though not an unwelcome one. I wanted to have babies close together, but not this close together. I would have probably started trying for a second around Teddy’s first birthday.
Did you know you could get pregnant so quickly?
I knew, but I didn’t think it would happen to me, so I’m the cautionary tale!
Were you using contraception?
No! I figured I wouldn’t get pregnant before my period came back. But I felt queasy for a couple of days, then I got violently ill going over the Remutaka Hill, and I don’t normally get car sick, so I took a pregnancy test and… big shock.
Was your husband shocked as well?
Yes. It took him a little while to feel happy about it. He was never upset or anything, but it was quite a lot to adjust to.
How did family and friends react?
There was definitely some shock. I was a little embarrassed and nervous about telling people because, even with friends, I anticipated that they were going to be like, ‘What? Really?’. But the reactions were happy and supportive.
Did having two babies so close together affect your mental or physical health?
I don’t think so. Though when I was pregnant with Xavi, I felt scared and guilty. I thought that because my attention would be divided between them, I wouldn’t be able to give my older son as much attention – or as much of myself – as he would need throughout his early stages of development. I just had to flip my mindset, and towards the end of the pregnancy I decided I wasn’t taking anything away from Teddy, but that I was giving him the amazing gift of a sibling.
‘We’re getting through all the hard stuff at the same time. A couple of years of solid sleeplessness, then hopefully things will get easier.’
Also, because I felt like I loved Teddy so much, I initially thought there wasn’t any room left in my heart for anyone else. But when Xavi was born, everything changed in an instant. Suddenly, I had greater capacity for love. I love them equally.
When you got pregnant the second time, did you feel like your body had recovered properly from your first pregnancy?
Oh my gosh, no. I was going to get myself back in shape and in perfect health before I got pregnant again. So I basically spent two years not feeling like myself with my body, my energy levels and my level of fitness. But actually, the second pregnancy was pretty easy compared to my first one. I don’t know if my body was just used to having those hormones or what! I didn’t get morning sickness.
Have you had any sleep the last two years?
Not as much as I’d like! Fortunately, Teddy has been sleeping through the night since he was nine months or so. Xavi wakes up at least two or three times a night, but we don’t have to get up for the day until six. Before having kids, I used to be really precious about my sleep and I had no idea how tired I’d be all the time. You just get used to it; and coffee is my best friend.
Did you ever breastfeed both at the same time?
No. Fortunately Teddy had weaned by the time Xavi was born. Breastfeeding just one is a lot! Breastfeeding Teddy was a tough adjustment, but with Xavi it’s been easier.
What about nap times and bedtimes?
It would be ideal if they did everything at the same time! But they have different bedtimes. Juggling that can be challenging, Teddy has one nap a day, whereas Xavi takes a short nap earlier and a long nap later.
Are their personalities similar?
They’re both really sweet and happy, but Teddy did a lot more crying. Xavi is super content which is good, because I wouldn’t be sane if I had to parent a toddler while spending two hours in the night walking a baby up and down the room.
What’s their bond like?
It’s been beautiful watching Teddy fall in love with his little brother, as Teddy develops and better understands what’s going on. In the morning, I give Teddy a bib to bring to his brother, and he clutches it and comes out saying Xavi’s name. He’s always trying to cuddle Xavi and bring him toys and things. Now Xavi is really starting to interact back. They’re able to entertain each other already.
Do you do any paid work?
I’m a manager in the public sector. I only took six months off work after my first son was born – then I found out I was pregnant before those six months ended! So, I was really nervous about telling people at work, but they were 100% supportive. When Teddy was six months old, he went into full-time daycare while I went back to work for six months.
Since I had Xavi, Teddy has been going to daycare three days a week – so we’ve had two days as a unit of mum and two boys, which has been cool. When I go back to work in two weeks, they’ll be in full-time daycare for as long as I’m working full-time, which I don’t see ever not being the case. So I’m about to go back again, but I’m not pregnant this time!
This might sound weird, but did having the two so close together feel efficient in some way?
That was exactly the word I jokingly used right throughout this! We’re getting through all the hard stuff at the same time. A couple of years of solid sleeplessness, then hopefully things will get easier. We’ve got a complete little family now, all done pretty quickly.
So, no more?
No. Two and done.
Babies with just a one-year gap between them are sometimes called ‘Irish twins’, a term used because it was common for Irish immigrants to America have children close in age. Have you heard or used that term?
Yes, I have. But I don’t know if that’s offensive to Irish people? I know that it’s based in Catholicism and no birth control. My sister-in-law is Irish. I could ask her. But it feels like a weird thing to bring up!
Do you have any help from family members or close friends?
I’ve got friends with young kids which is a nice support network, and I’ve also got my parents pretty close by which is amazing. My mum loves to be on call. She’ll come and have a cuddle and I get to have a shower.
What’s been the most challenging thing?
When they both need me at the same time. If Xavi’s crying, sometimes Teddy will also decide to cry. Then you get surround-sound crying. Jealousy exists, but it’s been fairly minimal.
It was also really hard not being able to pick Teddy up or care for him fully while I recovered after Xavi’s birth via caesarean. Fortunately, my husband was with us for six weeks and looked after us all while I soaked in newborn cuddles.
Does it feel kind of like a season of life, trying to enjoy the good things and knowing things will become a bit easier?
Absolutely. I’m able to enjoy it because, after having Teddy, I know now how quickly it all goes by. Even when I’m woken up at 3am feeding a baby, I don’t wish the time away.
How did Covid affect you?
When I had Teddy, we went into lockdown. So my husband was with us for 11 weeks. He’s in the army, so when he’s working, he’s pretty much always away Monday to Friday. He usually comes home on weekends, but he can be away for longer periods with army exercises or disaster relief. So, I solo parent two babies when daddy’s not around. When he’s here he’s not just a ‘help’, he’s 100 percent in his role as father.
Is it ‘I’ll take him, you take the other’?
Divide and conquer, completely.
Do you know anyone else who had two babies within a year?
No. Most people wait for two years or 18 months between babies. We really had two babies at the same time.
What would you say to someone else in this situation?
That I wouldn’t change it for the world. That the fear of the unknown is part of it, but it’s been beautiful. They’re mates for life. My level of resilience has grown tremendously, and I’m just incredibly grateful for the life and children that I have.