How to change your life in 8 weeks

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Five months after giving birth to my twin boys, crawling out of the fog of survival mode, I was ready to get back to an active lifestyle. Caring for and nursing newborn twins and my three-year-old had left me perpetually tired, hungry and sluggish. Aside from occasional winter walks, I was not getting much exercise. And I was treating myself to plenty of take-out coffee, baked goods and fast food as a way to reward myself for getting through the long days.

As a runner and a fairly healthy person, I knew I needed to kick these habits – which had almost become crutches – before they became routine for me as a busy mom of three.

I partnered with 3rd Degree Training Saint John, with the goal of getting in 3-4 high-intensity interval training workouts per week, and to share my story to help others see what it is like for someone like me to take on their program. I followed a customized Actual Nutrition plan for an active, breastfeeding mom (so much food!). My goals were simple: to get “in shape” again and feel good about myself. I was honestly not sure if four workouts and eating clean would be enough to see a significant change in my body. And to be honest, I was OK with that because I didn’t have a ton of weight to lose and I knew once I returned to running, eventually, that weight would melt away.

By week four I was already seeing significant changes, not only in how my clothes fit but, more significantly, in how I felt.

I had so much more energy, I felt mentally clear and my mood was lifted. I felt like a better mom, a better spouse and closer to the old “me.”

The combination of cleaning up my diet, simply by eating whole, real food and eliminating junk (which I didn’t eat loads of, but I certainly indulged at least once a day), and blasting my body with quick, effective workouts, was a magic combination.

It was so perfect to end my first round of bootcamp as I celebrated 35 trips around the sun. In eight weeks, I lost eight pounds and nearly eight inches. I love the program so much I decided to keep going for another round, with the goal of improving form and continuing to get stronger while I ease back into running.

Every day is not a cakewalk – sometimes I find it challenging to focus on making healthy meals for myself as well as my family (moms are used to being last priority, eating the leftover Timbits and crusts of peanut butter sandwiches!). I often scarf down cold food while babies are screaming. And even though the 10:30 Baby and Me class (Mon/Wed/Fri) is the perfect way to get in a workout with kids in tow, it’s certainly tough to get two babies out the door, while balancing whatever my older son is up to that day as well. Sometimes I ask my mother-in-law to come by while I squeeze in an evening workout, or sometimes I set my alarm for 5 a.m., feed my babies and pray they go back to sleep so I can hit up the 6 a.m. class.

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My boys: Callum, Leo and Silas.

But the perseverance and consistency pay off in spades. It is so motivating to see results and see other members change, too. We are all just regular people trying to fit a healthier lifestyle into our already busy, challenging lives.

Actual Nutrition is not billed as a diet, it’s almost the opposite. By setting out a guideline of what are commonly known as macro-nutrients – carbs, fats and protein – the program provides ultimate flexibility and never leaves you feeling hungry or lagging energy. That means no calorie counting and no feeling of deprivation. Instead I look forward to every meal and snack and enjoy the taste of real food again.

After eight weeks, I have put myself back onto a healthy path. When I have treat days (Easter and my birthday), I immediately feel the effects… tired, headachy, and moody. I always thought I was the kind of person who could never eliminate sugar or treats because I love them too much. I thought I could always just run off the calories. But now I know I can save these things for every once in a while, knowing they don’t do my body or my mood any favours anyway.

I am so grateful to 3rd Degree for the opportunity to try their program. Witnessing the impact it has on its members has been truly inspirational. It’s more than about seeing results in your before and after pics, it’s about changing your habits, clearing your mind and treating your body with the respect it deserves.

#thisis35 #blinkandyoumissit #mamaofboys

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Breastfeeding twins as an active mom

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

When our twins turned six months old, it was supposed to be a joyous milestone. We kept these two little souls fed, happy and thriving for half a year! We made it through the toughest days and nights of our lives! And they have brought so much love and happiness to our home.

Instead, at their six-month appointment, we found out that Leo’s weight had plateaued at about 12.5 lbs. He weighed the same as he did at five months. Leo, who was my biggest twin at birth at 6 lbs, 15 oz, was dropping off his growth curve.

Leo and Callum are 6 months old #twins #twinsofinstagram #sixmonthsold

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A feeling of heat rose through my chest and into my cheeks. Most mothers know it: a wrenching combination of guilt and fear.

I automatically blamed myself and my new quest to clean up my health and my eating. I worried that my workouts at 3rd Degree Training may have depleted my milk supply. At that point I was about halfway through the eight-week boot camp.

My family doctor did not blame me (even though I didn’t mention I had started a new exercise program). She simply suggested increasing the amount of solid foods the twins receive to three times a day. We also talked about giving them a bit of formula at night, something my doctor said was entirely up to me.

I have continued with my nutrition plan and working out four times a week at 3rd Degree throughout the past month, and while I have lost a few pounds and inches, both Leo and Callum have porked it on. All the while, I have continued breastfeeding them, along with increased solid foods and a couple ounces of formula at bedtime (in addition to breastmilk). It was always my goal to make it to six months of breastfeeding, but all three of us enjoy it, and since it has become so ingrained in our routines, I really want to keep going.

Now I can say with confidence that I know I did nothing wrong. Exercise should not negatively impact the quantity or quality of supply (unless there is a serious calorie deficit or dehydration). Exercise is good for both mom and baby, in so many ways.

I have taken great care to ensure I am consuming plenty of calories (1,000 more than the average woman!) and three litres of water. I am eating whole, real food, and I eat six times a day. I still eat bread (whole grains) and dairy, and eat plenty of protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats such as yogurt, nuts and avocado.

I know Leo and Callum are thriving, happy babies. They are content, they don’t fuss while nursing, they sleep relatively well and they love to eat. After searching some mom forums, I have discovered that many babies go through a weight plateau just before starting solids. And I remember Silas going through something similar as well. I started running regularly when he was about five months old.

I want other breastfeeding moms to know that it is fine to exercise, so go ahead and do it. Don’t feel guilty. It is so good for you (improved cardiovascular health, feelings of well-being and reduced stress, to name a few) and your baby.

That being said, I think it is also good to take your time and ease back into an active lifestyle slowly after childbirth. Kellymom.com recommends waiting until your baby is two months old and you have established a good milk supply before embarking on a weight-loss program. Through both of my experiences nursing newborns, I always feel we have hit our stride by the 3-4 month mark.

After a few days of wallowing in guilt after that five-month appointment, I even started feeling as though breastfeeding our twins was a mistake and that I was holding them back from growing into healthy little babies.

Now I know that is foolishness, and that I continue to give them the very best start I can offer. For me, being an active, healthy mom is a part of the equation.

For more information on postpartum fitness, check out this previous q&a I did with Caroline MacKay, who offers mom/baby fitness classes.

The struggle is real: getting out the door to our first workout

I swear, it takes me 10 years to get out the door to do anything these days. And even if I budget myself tons of extra time, I’m always late.

So getting out the door with twins to our first Baby & Me class at 3rd Degree Training was no different. After a fairly good night with the babies and Silas, who was fighting a cold and fever, I managed to eat a healthy breakfast of eggs, toast with peanut butter, an orange and a coffee. I got the babies fed, dressed and threw on some gym clothes. The class starts at 10:30 and at 10 a.m. I thought I would start assembling the diaper bag, getting on snowsuits and loading into car seats, a task that always seems to take forever. My husband got the van out of the garage for me.

But that’s when Callum started making his “I’m hungry” sound. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because they had both slept so well that night. I quickly fed both babies again (which wasn’t easy since I was already in my tight gym clothes), and got them packed away and out the door. They were crying. I was already out of breath. “I don’t know how you’re going to do this,” Mark said.

I arrived at the gym just as the workout had begun. Of course, I thought, I’m always the late one. I was frustrated with myself for being that person, again. I grumbled as I laid the babies on a blanket with some toys, slid on my running shoes and joined in.

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We made it

We did squats, lunges, sprinted on the spot, did push-ups (modified for me), jumping jacks (modified again, because… childbirth), supermans, and even burpees. The exercises were done 2-3 at a time for various lengths of time (ie 10-20 seconds) for a few sets. The workout just flew by! And the babies loved it, watching all the activity from their vantage point. My heart was racing, my face was red, and I was no longer grumpy. It was a mental and physical pick-me-up, just what any mom needs.

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Sure, why not another squat.

The great thing about this program is there are multiple class times every day open to members. The 10:30 a.m. Baby & Me class on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays works great for us, and I hope to bring Silas along at some point too. I’m hoping to try a 6 a.m. workout another day, because I have always aspired to be more of a morning person and love the idea of sneaking out when everyone is still sleeping (ideally!).

It feels so great to be making my health and fitness a priority again. If I see visual results from the healthier eating and exercise, it will only be a bonus because I already feel so good. I love the feeling of restful sleep after working out, and waking up with sore muscles. I am always inspired to eat better when I am exercising, and while the thought of eating “clean” for eight weeks is daunting, I know I can do it with some accountability. Keep following along as I share more about my nutrition plan and how I’m actually finding it hard to eat so… much… protein!

This is my ‘before’

The past few months, I have barely had enough time to look in the mirror, let alone think about my own health and fitness. And to be honest, I haven’t even cared that much. I haven’t run a single step since the twins were born five months ago. I take my babies out for walks, and we joined a mother/baby yoga class, but I certainly haven’t been in any rush to lose weight.

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Photo by Amy Stewart Photography

After giving birth the first time, I was anxious to get back in shape and find my running legs again. This time, I decided to give myself some grace. I am so grateful for my body and what it went through to bring my baby boys into the world. I don’t feel pressured to look perfect or thin, and I know I will return to running eventually.  I also need to make sure I have enough calories to nurse the twins.

It’s clear by the scale that I have been eating more than enough to feed those babies, and then some. I have rekindled my love affair with baked goods. Oh how I love the combination of butter, sugar and flour. Coffee with rich cream. Heavy home-cooked meals, pies, cake and brownies. And yes, fast food: pizza, McDonald’s, ice cream, you name it. There is something so comforting about eating fattening food when you’re tired and stressed. But this kind of eating isn’t helping anybody.

Now that the babies are five months old, I am declaring my free ride “over.”

It’s time to truly do my body a favour and eat better, get some exercise and get back some of that precious me time in the process.

My friends at 3rd Degree Training Saint John have offered me the opportunity to partner with them to try an eight-week fitness camp along with their Actual Nutrition program. I agreed, and I’m all in. That means before and after photos, measurements and aiming for at least four high intensity interval training sessions a week.

My main goal here is to get back to healthy, not necessarily lose weight. It’s about feeling good again, without the sugar, salt and fat. It’s about being a good role model for my family and preparing my body to run marathons again — without injury.

So here we go, I’m nervous to share this, but this is my “before” in all my postpartum glory. Help keep me accountable and follow along. Classes start Monday. Eek!

 

 

It takes a village

For many days and nights, the thought haunted me: I could not handle taking care of my three children on my own.

Holding one tender newborn in your arms can feel daunting, let alone two. But I had to figure out how to do it, while tending to our three-year-old, Silas — who was not only needy but, predictably, acting out now that the twins were home.

After the babies no longer needed top-ups at about 2.5 weeks old, I was on my own with breastfeeding. This meant my body was regulating exactly how much our twins needed. It also meant cluster-feeding. Translation: I was on the couch with those babes almost non-stop. If they fell asleep on my nursing pillow, I could rarely manage to transition them to a bassinet or crib without waking them. So I spent most of my time either holding or nursing babies.

Catching some 💤 #momlife #twins #callumandleo

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It was both beautiful and exhausting. Simultaneously joyful and dreadful.

As much as the twins needed me, Silas needed me too.

His world had just been turned upside down. His mom, dad, even his beloved Nanny became engrossed in tending to those babies. He was left trying to make sense of this new reality. All while be urged to “hurry up,” “eat your breakfast,” “get in the bath,” “go watch your videos,” “go to sleep” and “DON’T WAKE THE BABIES.” No wonder he decided to fight back once in awhile.

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I used to be the one who would read Silas several stories at bedtime followed by a discussion about “our day,” and cuddling until he fell asleep. Now, with Mark back to work in the evenings, I could no longer do this without babies literally strapped to me in a twin baby carrier — a back-breaking thing that brought some semblance of sanity to our evenings for almost three months.

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Survival mode.

I felt sad that I could no longer provide the same level of attention to Silas. I wanted to hold him close but I also needed others to step in to care for him so I could focus on my newborns. It was hard for Silas to adjust to all these new realities but I had to hope that eventually, he would be better for it.

I am not sure how we would have survived the period from early October until Christmas without the steady stream of loved ones who arrived on our doorsteps: my mom and dad, my sister and my aunt, all from Ontario, all staying one week at a time. My mother-in-law, who would come evenings when Mark went to work to help get Silas to bed, even taking him trick-or-treating on Halloween and putting food in my mouth when my hands were full. Friends who made us freezer meals and friends who took Silas for the afternoon. Our child-care provider and our community preschool.

My mother, the twin whisperer. #thankgodformothers #callumandleo

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Holding and rocking babies, making nutritious food and giving us love and support went a long way. But late at night, it was all me. All three kids needed me, and I was having trouble figuring out how to handle it.

The problem was that since I couldn’t manage to peel the babies off me at night, I found the easiest way to sleep was to just lean back on the couch and close my eyes. It wasn’t good quality sleep but it was enough to get by. Silas knew I was out in the living room and he kept waking in the night, crying for me. I was stuck and if I tried to move, I would either wake the babies or disrupt their feeding. Even though Mark tried to escort Silas back to bed, he would fight it, cry, tantrum. Exhausted, we gave up, and let Silas pass out next to me on the couch. The next morning would be rough because we would all be tired, and barely make it through the day. I would put Silas to bed praying for a better night.

I was a human pacifier for all three kids. Silas needed to hold my hand to fall asleep and if he woke up, he needed it again. I knew I needed to teach Silas to fall asleep on his own, but the thought of going through “sleep training” with a 3.5-year-old sounded like hell on wheels.

I remember dropping Silas off at his child care provider one morning and asking her, with tears in my eyes, if she ever dealt with these problems with her boys. I was just trying to hold it together, but it was still so hard.

Eventually we did figure it out, using a series of sticker charts, a timer on my phone for cuddles, weekly donut rewards and lots of praise, but Silas is still a finicky sleeper and I think it’s just the way he is. I try not to beat myself up for not laying the groundwork for better sleep habits before the twins were born, because I believe Silas was going through so many changes that all this may have happened anyway.

Thank goodness for grandparents who take our little guy for sleepovers every once in a while, allowing us a little extra shut eye and fewer renditions of musical beds.

Early days with twins

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Leo and Callum

One of the things that seemed most daunting during my twin pregnancy was breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to at least attempt to nurse both of my babies. I had spoken to enough brave, strong women who had done so and encouraged me. I had been through the wringer with Silas, but I had learned a thing or two since then, so I knew I wanted to give it a go.

Breastfeeding two newborns is not for the faint of heart. The first night in hospital was fine because I was still on a high. The second night, the babies wanted to cluster feed — eat non-stop. That is difficult with one baby, but with two, for lack of a better word, it’s hell. I didn’t sleep, and although the babies were latching pretty well, I was in a lot of discomfort.

Sometime in the middle of that second night, nurses weighed the babies and found they had each lost nearly 10 per cent of their body weight. While this is quite common, it was enough that I needed to consider supplementing them with formula.

The nurse asked me if I had anything against using formula. I said no, so she brought some in the room and showed me how to get started. She also arranged for a lactation nurse to come visit us to help us figure out a new system.

Although this made perfect sense at the time, emotionally, I was crestfallen. As soon as the nurse left the room, I fell into a mess of tears. I tried to explain it to Mark as though it was like someone told me I wasn’t able to care for my babies on my own. Of course that wasn’t true, but it’s how I felt.

Of course, at that moment, I was going through the typical low feelings many mothers feel during the days after childbirth, known as the baby blues. You go from riding the wave of bringing a new life into the world, to feeling like the worst mother on earth, all in the matter of hours. Or at least that’s how I felt. Times two.

My family doctor, Dr. Ross, who is wonderful, came to visit me and the babies around the same time as my OB, Dr. Patterson. I was crying and couldn’t control it, and I felt so embarrassed. I felt disappointed that I, an experienced mother, could not produce enough on my own to feed my babies. While it’s true that there wasn’t enough for those little baby boys in the early hours, I didn’t realize that with help, I could produce enough — and I would! All I thought was my hopes of feeding the boys on my own had been quashed.

I know this all may seem silly. Just give them a bottle already! But it’s hard to explain how important this was to me. It almost felt primal.

Luckily, we had Rayma from the Saint John Regional Hospital’s Mother/Baby Clinic. She came to my room and noticed tears were at the surface. “This is your sad day,” she said. She allowed me to have it. Then I would be on my way to bringing two healthy baby boys home!

Rayma showed us a way to nurse and bottle feed each baby followed by a pumping session for me. It was rigorous and needed to be done every three hours. But with another person, it could all be done under an hour. And the best part was, with formula filling their tummies, that babies would sleep well between feedings.

Formula was all new to me, but my husband and mother-in-law actually loved being a part of their early feedings. For weeks, we meticulously kept track of how much they ate, how long they nursed, what time and what was in their diapers. We returned to the mother/baby clinic every day for a week following the twins’ births. While it was annoying to pack up the babies and go to the hospital every day, it was so much better than staying there. Rayma patiently answered all my questions about the pump, which intimidated me. We adjusted the babies’ top-ups daily based on how much they were gaining and taking from me.

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One day I remember leaving the clinic and Rayma was on the phone providing updates to Dr. Ross. My doctor must have asked Rayma if we handling everything OK as parents. Rayma, “They’re rocking this thing, being twin parents.” It made me smile, even though I was still scared as hell, and I think Mark was too.

Eventually we were allowed to bring a scale home, so we could continue daily weigh-ins without having to trek to the hospital. It became a numbers game. We could figured out exactly how much a baby took in breastmilk by weighing them before and after a feeding, then determine exactly how much they needed in formula. Then, I would pump to continue to build supply. Every time I pumped, I would set aside that milk for the next feeding.

Rayma was my lifeline. She called to check in every day, even on Thanksgiving weekend. I looked forward to her call. She made me feel secure in what we were doing, and that my babies were going to be OK.

Eventually the top-ups were all breast-milk instead of formula. That’s when we knew we didn’t need the formula anymore.

“Go home and feed your babies,” Rayma said. It was music to my ears. Especially the idea of not having to be hooked up to a machine every three hours. But I was cautious. I knew it meant we would be off our three-hour schedule, and back to “on-demand” since we would no longer know exactly how much they getting during a nursing. That also meant cluster-feeding would likely be back in the picture (so exhausting!).

Through the same period, Rayma was encouraging me to tandem feed whenever possible. This means feeding the babies at the same time, holding one under each arm like a football, resting on a big pillow surrounding my body. It was intense, but the most efficient way to go. Tandem feeding on demand meant I was back to taking on feeding my babies on my own, which was great, but also exhausting.

So our breastfeeding journey was over the first hump. The babies were gaining well, healthy and at home. While it was surely a beautiful thing, my stress didn’t waver. We still had a three-year-old to entertain and care for, and I still wasn’t sleeping much. I knew it would get better, but it was still so hard. Especially when I couldn’t get the babies to sleep other than on my chest, and Silas starting waking in the night demanding my attention, refusing to settle down with his father.

Yes, we were in the thick of it, still. Parenting 2.0.

 

 

Our twin birth story

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Callum and Leo

When we arrived at the Saint John Regional Hospital in labour on the morning of Sept. 17, 2017, I was very calm. My labour pains were far apart and not very intense. It felt like something you would see on TV, breathing through each contraction — and nothing like the horrific pain I felt with my first labour, when contractions had me doubled over for hours until I gave in and got an epidural.

This time, I had no qualms about getting an epidural when and if necessary. But at first it seemed like things would progress quickly on their own. I was already 5 cm. Nurses hooked me up to a monitor and I breathed through each contraction every 10 to 15 minutes. After an hour or two, there wasn’t much progress. Dr. Sheppard, the on-call obstetrician, told me they would manually break my water if it didn’t happen on its own. He suggested that if I wanted an epidural — something they highly recommend with twins in case of emergency c-section — I should do it sooner rather than later, when the anesthesiologist was available.

I agreed, and the doctor soon arrived to administer the epidural, which involves getting a needle in your spine — not a pleasant experience, but not really painful either (especially compared to the pain of contractions). After I got the epidural, I had only dilated another centimetre or so, so Dr. Sheppard decided to go ahead and break the water of our Baby A, Leo. It was a weird experience, and kind of felt like a little poke inside, then wetting the bed.

From that point, my labour progressed almost immediately. I felt the contractions much more consistently and they actually hurt, even with the epidural. To any woman who has never given birth, I compare contractions to extremely intense menstrual cramps that radiate through your back (with Silas it felt like someone was hitting my back with a hammer). I remember the anesthesiologist asking if I wanted to increase the dosage of the epidural and I said, “naw, I can handle this.” My husband looked at me and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t be a hero, April.” I quickly agreed, kind of like when someone suggests to go for ice cream.

Within the span of about an hour, Leo was ready to be born. Dr. Sheppard checked me and suggested we try a push to ensure Leo was facing down, rather than “sunny side up.” It felt like a long, hard pregnancy and a short day of waiting had led to the moment of truth. Feelings of excitement and fear washed over me.

On the next contraction, I pushed, only a little, and Leo was “right there,” and facing the right direction.

Suddenly there was a rush as the medical team prepared me to be wheeled into the operating room, which is normal procedure for twin births, just in case of any issues with Twin B. Someone gave Mark a set of scrubs to put on. Nurses wheeled me down the hall and I waited in the OR, legs spread-eagle and shivering — partly because I was cold and excited/nervous and partly because of the epidural. Then I saw it: bassinets with marked “Baby A” and “Baby B.” For some reason, this is what put me over the edge. I started to cry, realizing I would soon have two more children, and my family would be complete. I would meet our baby boys in a matter of minutes!

During twin births, there are always many health professionals in the room — one set for each baby. Nurses, respiratory therapists, the anesthesiologist, the obstetrician and in my case, a resident. The twins and I were in excellent hands. I wasn’t worried at all. With both babies head-down, I had every confidence an emergency c-section wouldn’t be necessary, but even if it was, I knew everything would be OK.

When everyone was set up — and it didn’t take long — I started looking for Mark. He was the last person to enter the room. He waited next to my left ear, and my delivery nurse, Rachel, guided me through the process. She kept reassuring me every step of the way, and I often think about how wonderful she was.

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On the next contraction, I pushed two or three times, and Leo was born. Just like that! It felt like I had lost 100 pounds, a massive relief. I had felt so much pressure there for so long. He looked wonderful, pink and healthy, and my heart swelled and my tears flowed. I kissed him, then Mark held him while I readied myself to give birth — again!

There were actually close to 25 minutes between the births of Leo and Callum, but to me, it felt like no time at all. It took a few more pushes and contractions, but Callum was on his way. Earlier, I had asked the doctor if they would need to break Callum’s water too, and the doctor said it would happen on its own.

Sure enough, while I was pushing Callum, there came a huge gush of water that seemed to burst across the room. “My shoes!” Dr. Sheppard said.

Then, the doctor and nurses started talking about Callum’s heart rate, which was dropping. At the time, I thought they just couldn’t hear it on the Doppler. I’m glad I didn’t realize what was going on or I may have panicked. Rachel kept me focused and calm.

Dr. Sheppard helped Callum move down the birth canal with a vaccuum. He was born just after 7 p.m. and again, a feeling of relief and joy washed over me.

This was such an incredible experience. Two healthy babies and I was fine, too. When the nurses weighed them and shouted out their weights: 6 lbs, 5 oz and 6 lbs 15 oz, Mark and I were shocked and elated. Big babies for twins! We were so pleased. This would mean no time in the NICU.

I feel incredibly grateful and fortunate that everything went as smoothly as it did. For a few days I guess we were known as the rockstar twin parents, because our delivery was so flawless. We even got it done before the 7:30 pm shift change.

Holding two babies in my arms was incredible. They felt heavy and awkward but I had all the love in the world on my chest. I just loved the whole experience, and it was even better and less scary the second time. Each baby latched on with no issues, and I was so confident feeding would go more smoothly than it did with my first child.

I was on top of the world. We were up much of the night, feeding, changing, doting on those babies. The whole next day was beautiful, too, as Silas got to meet his brothers. But night number two was when things started going downhill. Or, rather, I went downhill. My hormones dropped, oh so fast, as did my confidence as a new twin mom.

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