Starting reception at compulsory school age: our journey begins

It’s that time of year again, when my social media feeds over the last few weeks have been full of back to school photos, as well as a fair number of not back to school photos from the home educating families that I know. I’ve been asked a few times if the twins are starting at nursery soon. They’ll be going to a lovely little church hall playgroup next September, when they’re eligible for the 15 hours a week free childcare from the government. We don’t need childcare before that as my paid work fits around what time I get when looking after them, which is mainly a few hours at weekends and most Wednesdays when Tom or my parents are around. But when we get it for free, I’ll use that time to do more paid work (sewing) and voluntary work (slings and breastfeeding support).

At that point the twins will be 3 years 2 months old. We would like them to go to the playgroup for two years, until they go to school at 5 years 2 months old. I know lots of children in England start school when they’re 4 years old, including our eldest two who were 4 years 7 months and 4 years 10 months, but I’d like to explain in this blog post why I think starting school at 4 years 2 months old is not in the twins’ best interests and how we can change this.

In a nutshell, I think we start formal schooling too young in this country. Most of the rest of Europe don’t start school until 6 or 7 years old; until this age children learn though play in nursery/kindergarten type settings or at home. This is because children aren’t, on average, developmentally ready for formal learning until this age. Notice I did say “on average”, which means some are ready (much) sooner, some (much) later; that’s the nature of a normal distribution. We seem to be an anomaly here in England. I became interested in this when I heard about the Too Much Too Soon campaign having worked in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge (in a different department). Here you can find a summary of the evidence they found for not starting formal learning at age 4:

So why did our older boys start reception class aged 4? Well first there was Andrew, the child who was clearly way above average in terms of his development in all areas including emotional, social and academic. He went to a lovely play-based daycare nursery with his free 15 hours for the year before school. It was there where they picked up on his exceptional abilities – for example, he could tell the time aged 3, just because he’d been curious and learned it from real life with us before nursery, and would tell the staff when they were due to go on breaks! I never had any doubt that he would thrive at school, and he always has. 

And then there was Joel, who thankfully has an October birthday, meaning he is one of the oldest in his class. Although I had more reservations about whether Joel would suit school, because he wasn’t as emotionally, socially or academically as developed as Andrew had been, at least he wasn’t long off 5 when he started reception. Furthermore, by the time we needed to consider whether to send him to school, we’d experienced over a year of the fantastic learning environment at Bournville Infant School (now Bournville Village Primary School after the infants and juniors merged). I was very impressed with how playful the reception class was, with most of the day spent outdoors, very little formal structure, hardly any tables in classrooms as they didn’t expect them to sit at them to learn etc. Even the transition to year 1 was gentle, with still a lot of play-based learning and no pressure of anything like homework. The Cadburys founded the school, and their ethos of letting kids be kids (rather than sending them out to work in those days) is still apparent today. We felt that considering the constraints of the education system that the school is in, formal learning wasn’t really starting until later in year 1, by which point Joel would be 6 and a half. So we tried it, and actually he’s thrived at school so far too, particularly the social aspect of it. He’s just started year 2 aged nearly 7. I don’t think he would have coped with this had he been any younger than he is. If he’d have been born just a couple of months earlier, there is no way he would have coped, let alone thrived, in the school year above.

So why will the twins not start reception aged 4? Essentially it comes down to the fact that their birthday is in June. The chances of them both being exceptionally above average in all areas of development at just turned 4 are pretty slim, and I wouldn’t want one to start school without the other as I think that could cause issues between them later on. Even at a school which doesn’t press ahead with formal learning very quickly, being summer born means they would be starting it younger than age 6, and our experience with Joel suggests this could all go horribly wrong for them. My own experience of being summer born, so starting school at just turned 4, also comes in to this. I never struggled academically – I left school with straight As at GCSE and A-Level, and went on to achieve a first class bachelors degree, a masters degree and a PhD. But emotionally I don’t think I coped well, and my mental health was poor when I left school. However, it’s precisely because the twins are summer born that we now have the chance to do things differently.

The School Admissions Code (December 2014) section 2.17 states that “the parents of a summer born* child may choose not to send that child to school until the September following their fifth birthday and may request that they are admitted out of their normal age group – to reception rather than year 1.” (* Summer born is defined as born between 1st April and 31st August.) And actually compulsory school age (CSA) in this country is 5 years old anyway. Even though in practice most children start reception aged 4, this is not compulsory, and of course parents have the legal right to home educate once CSA is reached. Prior to the current admissions code, parents didn’t have the right to request a CSA reception start, they just had the right to skip reception and start their child at CSA in year 1 – which we still have, but I never really understood why that helped at all. Starting reception in September at CSA isn’t a deferred or a delayed start (this means a start part way through reception year such as after Christmas or Easter), rather it is referred to as a deceleration or an admission out of the normal age cohort.

So this all sounds straightforward to me, what’s the catch? Well the hard part comes (or may come) in getting our preferred school(s) to agree to our request for a CSA reception start. The School Admissions Code (December 2014) section 2.17A states that “[a]dmission authorities must make decisions on the basis of the circumstances of each case and in the best interests of the child concerned. This will include taking account of the parent’s views; information about the child’s academic, social and emotional development; where relevant, their medical history and the views of a medical professional; whether they have previously been educated out of their normal age group; and whether they may naturally have fallen into a lower age group if it were not for being born prematurely. They must also take into account the views of the head teacher of the school concerned. When informing a parent of their decision on the year group the child should be admitted to, the admission authority must set out clearly the reasons for their decision.” It is our right to wait until CSA (5 years), but ultimately the admission authority decides whether the child goes in to reception or year 1 at that point, having considered the parents’ request for a reception start, and the authority must detail why they think reception or year 1 is in the child’s best interests.

The admission authority varies for each school. We have 4 primary schools about half a mile from our house in different directions: one is an academy, so the authority is the academy trust; two are voluntary aided schools, so the authority is the governing body; one is a community school, so the authority is Birmingham City Council. Basically it will depend on who out of all these people agrees with us that a CSA reception start is in the twins’ best interests and is therefore happy to grant our request on the sole basis of birth date, since we have no other factors such as special educational needs or prematurity involved. We do have sibling priority at Bournville Village Primary School, but if they are not willing to grant our request, we are not averse to trying the other three schools, particularly because Andrew will start secondary school when the twins start reception at CSA. If none of these schools agrees with us, we will probably home educate them for a while until we are happy that they are ready for formal schooling. But that’s a bridge to cross once we’ve gone down the route of requesting a CSA reception start first. 

For me it’s not just about them being ready for reception at just turned 4, because actually I think they’d probably cope if not thrive (the latter being the thing to aim for) in BVPS reception class. It’s about them being ready for the transition to year 1 at just turned 5, and the transition to year 3 at just turned 7, and the transition to year 7 at just turned 11, and doing GCSEs aged 15 and A-levels aged 17 etc. It’s about their whole school life ahead of them. I personally think there’s far more risk involved in the potential long term negative consequences of sending them to reception aged 4 years 2 months than there is risk in sending them to reception aged 5 years 2 months. I can only see benefits of waiting that year. So they will finish school aged just turned 19? That doesn’t seem to have caused any of my German friends harm. What’s a year in the scale of a lifetime? 

This blog post is the first chapter in documenting our journey of the twins starting school. It may be that all goes smoothly and there isn’t much to write home about, but we may have challenges. I want to document it to raise awareness of the rights we have as parents in terms of our children’s education, but rights which aren’t very well known or talked about. I’ve already found lots of support in the Flexible School Admissions for Summerborns Facebook group, which I would recommend joining if you’d like to find out more from parents who have been successful in or are applying for a CSA reception start. Watch this space for more updates in future.

Birthday cakes – 2018

Andrew’s 7th birthday

He had a swimming party this year.

Samuel and Naomi’s 1st birthday

Since we used to call them Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the womb, a term of endearment named after the little creatures in The Cat in The Hat by Dr Seuss, I thought this was appropriate for their first birthday. I want to always make one cake each for them, so doing something like this where there’s two in a pair is handy.

Joel’s 6th birthday

He had a soft play party at Tumble Jungle this year.

The twins turn two

Today the twins turned 2 years old! This means we’ve survived our second year of this crazy thing that is parenting 4 children. But not only that, their second birthday marks a significant milestone – I have now breastfed all 4 kids to (at least) the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 2 years. Considering how dire I felt our breastfeeding journey was going at just 2 weeks old with our eldest child, this is definitely something I want to celebrate.

Breastfeeding is something I don’t see celebrated much in our society. The only place I really see celebrations of milestones, whether 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years or whatever, is breastfeeding support groups online, which are of course full of people who are/were breastfeeding. And I must admit I don’t often think of it as an achievement when we are going through the challenges of everyday life. But when I allow myself to stop and ponder, I’m really proud of myself and of how far we’ve come. 

It can feel difficult to openly celebrate breastfeeding when you see that anything about breastfeeding in the media ends up turning in to a debate on breastfeeding versus formula feeding. So many mums join in saying they are being made to feel like failures because they didn’t have the right information and support to breastfeed or didn’t want to breastfeed. My view is that individual mums aren’t failing to breastfeed, they are *being failed* in a society that doesn’t value breastfeeding – but that’s a whole other topic!

It’s a hugely emotive subject, and I definitely shy away from getting involved, which means I don’t often talk about breastfeeding beyond circles that I’m comfortable with (like support groups online or in person). I wrote a fair amount on breastfeeding our kids as babies on this blog, mainly to raise awareness of specific issues and circumstances that aren’t that commonly written about – hypoplasia, true and chronic low supply, using a supplemental nursing system or SNS, breastfeeding in pregnancy, tandem breastfeeding a baby and a toddler, breastfeeding twins etc. 

But I haven’t written much about the achievement that has resulted from perseverance through all of this – the achievement of breastfeeding until the boys self weaned at 4 years old and 2 and a half years old, the achievement of breastfeeding twins until at least 2 years old. I haven’t been motivated to, I didn’t want to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet, partly through fear of offending anyone who hasn’t breastfed (or breastfed this long) for whatever reason.

However, recently I read a social media post about celebrating breastfeeding achievements that went viral. I’ll now paraphrase the gist of what I took from it. The author likened her breastfeeding journey to running a marathon. Many people train hard to run marathons – they put in lots of effort, dedicate their time and energy over several months, they build up with shorter runs and then celebrate these milestones as well as the final achievement of the marathon (online and in person). Now does anyone who doesn’t run a marathon for whatever reason get offended by this? Is it seen as an attack on anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to run a marathon? Does it mean everyone should run marathons? No, it’s simply someone choosing to aim for an achievement and smashing it. 

For me, and many others, breastfeeding is my marathon! I persevered through so much, mainly due to my hypoplasia and the resulting physiological inability to produce enough of my own milk. But our youngest three children have been fed milk entirely at the breast, no bottles whatsoever (thanks SNS!), and the eldest only had a few. When I think of it like that, why shouldn’t I openly celebrate the hardest achievement of my life (after the PhD)? Just like I have friends who openly celebrate running marathons (I seem to know quite a few!)

The current plan is to let the twins self wean, like the boys did. They only usually feed once first thing in the morning and once before bedtime. I expect one of these will drop at some point and then the last one will gradually decline in frequency until one day I’ll look back and think it must be a few weeks since they last fed and I didn’t realise at the time that was actually the last feed. That’s how it happened before at least, I know it might not be the same, though this is often what people experience with self weaning in toddlerhood or beyond. Of course if I feel the need to stop sooner this plan may change, but for now it suits all three of us so I’m happy with that. I’ll stop blowing the trumpet now.

What is work?

Will I ever go back to work? It’s a question I’m asked now and then by various people. For anyone who doesn’t know (and sometimes the person asking doesn’t know this either), here’s a brief history of my “career” to date, because it explains how I’ve come to do what work I do now.

After graduating from the University of Nottingham with a first class degree in French and German, I took a year out to think about exactly what I wanted to do with it. I worked in a supermarket to pay my rent that year, and decided to apply for a Masters degree in linguistics. I was accepted by the University of Cambridge, and completed the Masters the following year. Thankfully Tom, my then boyfriend and later husband whom I’d met when we were students in Nottingham, came with me. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do beyond studying, so I applied to do a PhD, to continue the research I’d started in the Masters thesis. I dabbled a bit in publishing, doing some vacation work for Cambridge University Press. Towards the end of my 2 and a half year stint as a PhD student, I applied for a job as a postdoctoral researcher, because it seemed the perfect fit – the project applied the area of theoretical research covered in my PhD to real life (children with language impairments). I got the job and started a week after I handed in my PhD thesis. 

I also found out I was pregnant just a few weeks into the new job, did my PhD viva in the midst of early pregnancy sickness, and our eldest child, Andrew, was born 9 months later. I took 9 months maternity leave and returned to the research job 2 and a half days a week. Although I found the research itself interesting and my skills were well suited to the job, I struggled with working part-time in the highly competitive workplace that is academia. I’d never had a long term goal of anything like getting on the tenure ladder, being a lecturer and working up to professor status. I was there because I enjoyed what I did at each stage, never really looking far beyond it. Research-only posts like the one I had were short term contracts (1-2 years, 3 if you were lucky), and the thought of always having to be thinking about the next one whilst bringing up a young family was very daunting. I was on a decent wage for my age, and Tom and I both juggled our working days so that we only paid a childminder for 2 days whilst I earned for 2 and a half days, but still I didn’t bring home that much money, even with just the one child. I felt I wasn’t doing either job (research or mum) the justice it deserved. 

I was pregnant with our second child just after Andrew turned 1 year old. My contract was due to come to end a couple of months after Joel was born. For all the reasons above, I decided to not return to the job (if indeed my boss could have secured more funding to extend the project anyway). I did a fair amount of voluntary work in the first year of Joel’s life, with two kids under 3, setting up a nappy library and being editor of the Cambridge NCT magazine. Then we moved to Birmingham, nearer to family and where we could afford a house.

It’s then that I decided to set up a business sewing reusable nappies and accessories – Sewn Down Purple Lane was born. I was really enjoying being a “stay at home mum” (I can’t stand that term, we rarely stay at home in the daytime unless eating or sleeping/resting, but anyway….) and I didn’t regret my decision to leave a salaried job at all. But I also found that having some other form of work to do made me take some time for me, it made me enjoy the mum role even more. Initially I’d found this balance through my voluntary work, but then the opportunity arose to earn a small income whilst also enjoying the creativity of sewing, which really appealed to me. 

Until Andrew was born, I never really had a sense of purpose. Sure I got excellent grades at school and university; I worked hard, took pride in my abilities, and mostly enjoyed myself along the way. Yet I didn’t find a way of using these to deeply satisfy my need to feel useful in the world. I did start to feel like I was getting somewhere with the one salaried job that I had, but this was nothing compared to the sense of purpose that flooded me when I became a mum. I felt that this is what I was called to be, God’s plan for my life, and raising children was my work. I didn’t want to pay someone to look after them whilst I did another paid job, and this was another of my struggles in the one year that I did do this with one child. 

There are various ways of categorising work, such as paid, unpaid, voluntary, self-employed, full-time, part-time etc. The point of outlining my career to date was to show that I’ve done all of the above. The thing is though, that when we talk about work in our society today, generally the assumption is that work means paid work – anything that contributes to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, directly to the economy. I personally don’t think the word work should automatically assume the meaning paid work. All types of work are important, and contribute to society in many ways, even if not in direct economic terms. You can read much more about this on the Mother’s At Home Matter Facebook page.

It’s not like the unpaid work of looking after our children is any easier than other work I’ve done either. I remember the year when I did part-time paid work in research – the days I looked after Andrew made me far more exhausted than the days I spent sitting in an office, writing research papers whilst drinking hot drinks and going to the toilet on my own. And that was with only one child! (I do chuckle looking back at myself then….) I’m not alone in this, I know lots of parents who say the same thing about doing part-time paid work. There are also no extra benefits to my mum role – no annual leave, no sick leave/pay, no scheduled breaks etc. 

Some days are really hard, and I feel like running away to a paid job somewhere and paying someone else to look after the kids. But after some sleep or a rest thanks to our wonderful support network comprising family and friends, I can see the bigger picture, feel that sense of purpose again, and carry on. I know I am very blessed with this help, people who enable me to do the role the best I can. I’m also aware that I have chosen to do this work, it’s not something I’m forced to do, and we are in a position as a family to genuinely make this choice. It’s not without sacrifice – for example we don’t go on holidays other than going away staying with grandparents, we run only one car (and walk/cycle where possible), we buy secondhand, we don’t eat out/get takeaways often….. though at the moment all this would still apply if I was doing paid work and paying someone else to look after the kids, unless one of us was on a much higher salary than we have ever earned. 

So to come back to the question of whether I’ll ever go back to work…. that presumably means paid work which isn’t my own self-employment…. I might do. The truth is I don’t know right now, and like at every stage of my career to date, I don’t look far beyond the present. I’m happy, or actually I’m joyful, because some days/hours I’m not happy, like when I’m dealing with the umpteenth twin toddler meltdown of the day after a pathetic excuse for a night’s sleep. But deep down I rejoice in my role of being mum. So why change anything for now? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

My wrap stash explained

I was inspired by a recent blog post written by my friend Nicole, and she in turn was inspired by another mum who carries her child in slings. They both shared why they own their various woven wraps, detailing what they like about each wrap in their stash. I thought this would be an interesting post to write, to explain why I have more than one, and why they are so versatile for carrying twins.

From left to right – ring sling, size 2, size 3, size 4, size 5/6, size 7

I’ve only become a woven wrap enthusiast since carrying the twins. I rarely carried Andrew in a sling – we were given two high street ones (Baby Bjorn and Baba Sling) which I didn’t find comfortable for long, and then we acquired a framed back carrier, but I didn’t get chance to use it much before I was pregnant again and was too sick to have it pressing on my stomach at the waist. I made a concerted effort to look into the possibility of more comfortable slings before Joel was born, mainly because I didn’t want a bulky double buggy with two kids under 2. Thankfully I found out about stretchy wraps, and carried Joel everywhere in that until he was about 6 months old. We then had a few different sizes of soft-structured/buckle carriers and two ring slings for both boys into toddlerhood until we stopped carrying them around age 4.

When pregnant with the twins, I looked at the various options available, and decided that woven wraps would be the most versatile to see us through from birth to the end of carrying. I knew they came with a steeper learning curve than other slings, but with my experience of front carries with a stretchy wrap, back carries with buckle carriers, and hip carries with woven wrap fabric in ring slings, I felt less daunted by them than I had before. And so I began to think about what should be in my wrap stash!

So after this introduction to set the scene, I’ll now go through them in size order and explain why they’re in the stash……

Girasol light rainbow diamond weave cream weft ring sling

This is the only one that was left over from my time carrying the older boys. I made it myself after buying a longer wrap, chopping it down to the right size, sewing the rings in, and using the left over wrap scrap for my work. I found that standard ring slings which you can buy from wrap companies have too long a tail for my liking, so I made ours shorter. 

It is woven with 100% cotton yarn, with a diamond pattern in the weave. It has had lots of breaking in so it is gorgeously buttery soft. It is quite thin, but supportive enough for a toddler for a while or a baby for longer. 

I use this sling when I need to carry one baby on my hip but have hands free. This is usually around the house for short periods, or when going out from the front door to the car – I can take both babies by having one in the sling and one in my arms on the other hip, or one baby at a time with bags etc. on my other side. It’s a very handy way to cuddle a baby who wants to see your face, but you can also get on with things in front of you.

Firespiral spindrift cyano seafoam size 2

This one joined the stash when I started doing front-back tandem carries when the twins were around 3.5 months old. I found the easiest place to start with carries like this was to master a simple ruck back carry, then add a kangaroo pouch through the ruck straps on front, which required a very short wrap. I knew I wanted to get a Firespiral wrap with their cyano (blue/green) coloured warp thread at some point in our wrapping journey, because I just love the colour. When I saw this size 2 for sale preloved on the day I decided to look for one, I knew it was the one for us. 

It is woven with 50% combed cotton yarn and 50% hemp yarn. The hemp makes it really supportive despite its thinness, which means it’s great for tandem carrying, when I want to get maximum support for minimum fabric. It also has just the right amount of grip and glide for threading through ruck straps to make a front pouch.

I use this wrap mainly for a front kangaroo pouch as I said. But I also like this wrap on its own for a quick ruck tied at shoulder (with or without a candy cane chest belt) for one baby on my back. Its short length means it’s quite easy to wrap with in a muddy car park without trailing the tails in the mud, and the hemp means a simple ruck is pretty supportive even as the babies are getting heavier. It’s also my plan to use this more over the coming summer in tandem with another shorty (see below), and I’ve just begun practising the options.

Oscha starry night prism size 3

This is the most recent addition to the stash – it arrived this week! My main reason for buying it is that I’d like to have two short wraps (or “shorties”) for summer, so that I can do some front-back tandem carries that have less fabric around me than the carries I first learned when it was winter. I’d been practising with my size 4 and my size 2, but really the 4 was a bit long and not quite the right blend for front-back tandem carries. More on the specifics of these carries below. The colours of this wrap really caught my eye; I love graduated warps like this, for both aesthetic and practical reasons (it’s easy to see where you need to tighten!) I also like the starry night pattern – and the abbreviation SN has meaning for us since the twins are Samuel and Naomi. The fact that the blend sounded just what I was looking for clinched the deal, and I bought my first brand new Oscha wrap.

It is woven with 56% organic combed cotton yarn, 13% organic linen yarn, 13% hemp yarn and 18% Tencel yarn. Since we’ve only had it a few days, it’s not broken in yet, so I can’t comment on what it will be like when we’ve used it more, but my first impressions are that it is just what I was looking for. Not really thin, but not thick either; a good amount of grip but also slightly shiny with some glide; enough cush on my shoulders and supportive enough in simple carries with a shorty; cool for summer.

As I said above, my plan is to use this for tandem carries with two shorties. So far I’ve tried a ruck tied at shoulder with a kangaroo pouch on front, and a pre-tied short cross carry with ring finish on front and a ruck tied at shoulder on back. Both work well for minimal fabric, but I like the fact that in the latter combo front and back baby are completely independent, so back baby can come off even if front baby doesn’t. The size 3 is also great on its own for either a SCC or ruck TAS with candy cane chest belt.

Girasol double rainbow purple weft size 4

This one joined the stash when I started back wrapping when the twins were around 3 months old. At that point I only had my base size (5/6) and a size 7. Although it’s perfectly possible to do a simple ruck back carry with long wraps, because too long is better than too short for a wrap, I felt that it would be easier to learn with a shorter one, so I didn’t feel too swamped with fabric tails stretching  along the floor. I also wanted something thinner than my base size wrap, more similar in thinness to my size 7, again for ease of getting a good wrap job when learning. And my final criterion was to have colour stripes going along the length of the wrap, for ease of finding the rails and sections across it when learning to back carry. With these criteria in mind, I decided to look for another Girasol. Once I saw that a retailer in Europe had Girasol double rainbow wraps for sale, I knew we had to have one. The twins are our double rainbow babies after a miscarriage, so this means a lot to me. The choice of purple weft relates to my business, Sewn Down Purple Lane, and ultimately where we live – Bournville, home of Cadbury’s. This is going to be our legacy wrap – the one that I will keep to hand down to any of our children if they have their own babies one day. It’s a great beginner wrap for all the reasons listed above too, so a good one to start them on their carrying journey if they wish.

It is woven with 100% cotton yarn. Since I bought it new, it’s not quite as broken in yet as our Girasol ring sling, but it is well on the way to it with the amount of use it’s had. It is relatively thin but supportive enough for single carries, and grips well enough and isn’t hard to knot. It’s really easy to care for too. The thickness and grip is just right for the tandem hip carry with 4 rings that I use regularly.

I use this wrap mainly for two things these days. First, a simple ruck back carry with one baby either around the house or when we are out as a family and Tom has the other twin on his back. Second, a Jasmine’s tandem hip carry with 4 rings, which is essentially like using two ring slings but with one longer wrap instead, and it’s perfect for quick ups, like from the car to a building so I have hands free to carry bags etc. This gets lots of comments for how useful it looks. I couldn’t carry them for ages like this, more because my arms are pretty restricted now they are bigger, but it’s perfect for short periods. When I first started front-back tandem carries, my staple carry for the school run for a good month or so was a ruck tied Tibetan with this wrap, and a pouch on front through the ruck straps with my size 2. Now the twins are heavier I find the Girasol not quite supportive enough for front-back tandem carries, and I moved on to preferring a double hammock on back, which requires a longer wrap than a size 4.

Firespiral twilight anemone tourbillion size long 5 / short 6

This was the first wrap I bought when I was pregnant with the twins. I knew that my base size was going to be between a 5 and a 6. I’d been looking at Firespiral wraps on their website, and this one really caught my eye in terms of pattern and colour, and its average thickness and easy care fibre content seemed to make it a great starter wrap to have a go at wrapping one or two babies. I deliberated for a while over which size I should get – 5 or 6. But then I saw one come up preloved for a great price, and it was described as a short size 6. Perfect! Just what I was looking for, so there began my wrap stash.

It is woven with 100% cotton yarn. It arrived with me already lovely and soft, so had clearly had a fair amount of breaking in. It has an average thickness for a woven wrap, though it’s actually my thickest wrap, because I tend to favour them on the thinner side, particularly for tandem carries. But this does give it a lovely cushy feel on my shoulders, and I can get some great pleats when tightening strand by strand up there. I find it really supportive for 100% cotton. I think the grip of the fabric helps this too, and the pattern and typical Firespiral weave make the texture nicely grippy without being too difficult to handle.

I have used this wrap consistently for a few different things. First, it is my base size for doing a FWCC with one baby when I want to front carry. I don’t do this as much as I used to because I tend to prefer back carrying now that they’re heavier, but it is still great for this when I do. Second, my staple tandem carry for school runs over the winter was a double hammock on back (tied at hip) with this wrap, and a kangaroo pouch on front with my size 2. The support, grip and cush are just right for this, however I find I’m getting a bit warm in the nicer weather. Third, I used to use this in the first 3 months or so for an Amanda’s tandem hip carry, or sometimes a Jasmine’s tandem hip carry with one ring. Again it offered just the right amount of grip and cush for this.

Oscha roses mutiara size 7

This was the second wrap I bought when I was pregnant with the twins. Although I had a 100% cotton base size wrap, I knew that having a longer wrap would be useful for twins for tandem carries using one long wrap. Since we were going to be doing a lot of newborn carrying in the summer months, I decided a thinner wrap than my size 5/6 and a blend with cooling linen in would be a good idea. When I saw the colours of this which was for sale preloved, I knew it was the one for us. I’d not previously been as big a fan of the roses pattern compared to other Oscha patterns, but somehow with this gradient of colours it looked brilliant.

It is woven with 80% cotton yarn and 20% linen yarn. It arrived with me already soft and floppy, which can take a while with linen, so I was really glad I’d bought it preloved as other people had done the breaking in for us – it was ready for newborns. It is quite a thin wrap, but really supportive, thanks to the linen. But is doesn’t feel at all stiff, and I can tandem for about an hour (with a good wrap job) before it feels diggy on my shoulders, which is pretty good going. It has a slight stretch and spring to it too.

This was the wrap that I first wrapped the twins in at a week old. I did a tandem FWCC, which wasn’t the greatest, but I soon got better with the loads of practice that I got doing it multiple times a day, day in, day out. They lived (mainly slept) happily in there so I could get on with jobs or do things with the older boys. I will never forget those double squishy cuddles in this special wrap. Although it is possible to do a tandem FWCC with young babies in base size, I liked the extra length on the tails for pinning purposes, and the wrap qualities of this size 7 were better suited to our needs over the summer, plus it looked nice to have beautiful long swishy tails at the back! As I moved on to two-wrap front-back tandems, this wrap took a back seat for a while. But as I got more experience with back wrapping, and therefore could handle the long tails, I came back to this to do front-back tandem carries with the one long wrap. Either a ruck on back, tied Tibetan, with a FCC on front in the cross passes, or a double hammock on back, with the same on front but with a ring finish instead of knotted. The ruck version is what I’ve been mainly using for the school run since the weather turned a bit warmer. I’ve also used it for single carries like a FWCC or a double hammock, to enjoy the extra tails, or when I might need to take the other twin at some point as we juggle them between Tom and me.


As you can see from the photos of these wraps, my favourite colours are very much reflected in my stash – pinks, purples, teals and rainbows. I also like how neatly balanced my current stash is with my three favourite brands – two Firespiral, two Oscha and two Girasol. 

Firespiral and Oscha are both UK based small businesses, with an ethical and sustainable approach, keeping their products as locally sourced and manufactured as possible. The founders are mums themselves, and as a small business owner myself, I can relate to their work life, balancing it with young children. Girasol make the best rainbows! There are so many different versions too, it’s hard to say which is my favourite. It is a German company, but the wraps are hand woven in Guatemala in a Fair Trade agreement, and again I like the ethical considerations that the owners have given to their brand. 

I hope that this has been an interesting read. I’ve enjoyed writing it, getting down in words what I often think about with a baby or two wrapped on me. One day I will enjoy looking back on it too, when the twins are older and our stash may have changed to suit our changing needs, or when they no longer wish to be carried at all. 

Our twin slinging journey so far – for It’s A Sling Thing

I was asked by Jenni at It’s A Sling Thing (postal hire sling library) to write a short piece for their weekly slot on carrying journeys. This is ours so far in 600 words (brief for me 😉 )


I  count my slings as my only essential items for twin parenting. There’s a few other things I’d struggle to live without, but I cannot imagine life with twins (and two older kids) without slings – at all. I rely on carrying one or two babies so often everyday, to help me parent as best I can. Slings aren’t only our form of transport for the babies, but a tool I use to get them to sleep, calm them down, and keep them close to me when they need me and I need to do other things.

My preferred type of sling is my selection of woven wraps, because I find these so comfortable and versatile- I have 5 different length wraps and can do so many different combinations of single and tandem carries. We also have a Twingaroo buckle carrier and a standard Tula buckle carrier, which mostly get used by my husband and parents. I have experimented with a lot of carries and combinations, beginning with both children on my front or hips, until that became too restrictive in terms of using my arms, so from 3.5months I have used front-back tandem carries which allowed me to get a comfy, high back carry, and I usually wrapped the baby on my front through the “straps” of the back carry. This provided a practical way to carry for things like our daily school runs and walks to the shops.

Although they shared a womb, my twins are simply siblings who happened to be born at the same time, and they are very different little people. My parenting approach is very much child-led, and slings help me to be responsive to each of their needs at different times. For example, we don’t always have synchronised naps, so I can often be found doing jobs with one twin awake on my back whilst the other is in bed asleep, or one twin asleep/awake on my back as I feed, play with or change the nappy of the other who is awake. Slings save my sanity when our day is all over the place!

Whilst I do alternate which twin is on the front and which is on the back for front-back carries, my decision is based on a few factors at any point. If I think one will fall asleep, he/she will go on my back because I can then get front baby off without disturbing back baby. If I don’t expect either to sleep, Samuel prefers to be high on my back looking out into the world over my shoulder, whereas Naomi is happy to play with my fiddle necklace and look out the sides occasionally on front. Another example of how they are different.

Carrying the twins is practical for us on a daily basis. We’ve always been an active family. Andrew and Joel like running and scooting to places like the park where a buggy would be impractical. Our walk to school is down a pavement which is too narrow in places to fit a double buggy, and besides, I like having my hands free to hold the boys’ hands if necessary.

Now that the twins are 9 months old, I am getting a lot of comments asking when I’m going to stop carrying them. My response is when they no longer want it or I no longer can, whichever is sooner. Given that I carried Andrew and Joel until they were 3 and 4 years old, I imagine my body will be capable of it for a while yet. Twin slinging is such a huge part of our lives, I can’t imagine life without it right now.

Follow our twin slinging journey in pictures at

Celebrating the gift of children

On Sunday we celebrated with family and friends the twins’ dedication at church. This is a bit like a christening, but we chose to have a thanksgiving rather than a baptism, which is the same decision we made for the older boys too. It is a way of thanking God for their safe arrival, praying for their future lives, and giving them a public welcome into the church family. It’s also a great excuse for a family get-together! One day our children can choose themselves to be baptised, if they come to believe in Jesus as their saviour, which of course we pray they do, but ultimately we would like them to be able to make that step on their own.

We go to a Church of England (CofE) church here in Birmingham, as we did in the previous cities we have lived in (in fact Tom and I met at church in Nottingham). Traditionally the CofE has baptised infants, but there is also a standard liturgy for a thanksgiving (or dedication) for anyone who would rather do this, and we have known a roughly similar number of parents our age who go to the same CofE churches as us choose each one.

My parents went to a Baptist church when I was a child, and the tradition there is to baptise adults (or at least older children who have decided themselves) and dedicate babies; I really appreciated the opportunity to have a believer’s baptism as a teenager, to consciously experience the act of water washing away my sin. Tom was baptised as a baby, and then decided to publicly commit to his belief in Jesus at his confirmation as a young adult – this is what has traditionally been done in the CofE for those who were baptised as babies and who want to declare their faith as adults, though it’s not a second baptism involving any water. He too has no issue with what had been decided on his behalf as a baby, because he has come to the same conclusion on his own. So with one positive experience each, this didn’t help us in our decision as to which to have for our own children: an infant baptism or dedication.

It’s not a decision we came to quickly. We thought and prayed for quite a while before we went down this route with Andrew. We looked into the theological arguments for and against infant baptism, and really didn’t have a sense of which was the “correct” interpretation of the Bible. We spoke to the vicar of the church we went to at the time, and to friends who had decided on either baptism or dedication. In the end we decided that God is far bigger than any of the decisions we make as His children, so even if the CofE have got it “right” and the Baptists have got it “wrong”, we don’t believe this matters to God, and He knows our intentions and thought processes in this decision.

Although we have both found ourselves at home in CofE churches for the past 20 years or so, that’s not to say we consider ourselves strictly in that denomination. Primarily we are Christians, with a relationship with Jesus Christ, and the individual church we choose to go to at any given time reflects how we best interact with God via the worship there, not simply because the church belongs to a particular group with particular traditions. The CofE itself has a huge range of worship styles within it anyway, as we have seen from our past few churches that have been right for us in different ways at different times and stages of our lives.

The twins’ dedication was particularly meaningful for us since they were born after we lost a previous baby to miscarriage. Not that we weren’t thankful for the older boys, but having experienced pregnancy loss before the twins were born, this made us appreciate the preciousness of new life that comes from God all the more so this time. I wrote a blog post not long after the miscarriage about children being a gift from God. I didn’t know at that point if we would be blessed with a rainbow baby (or even two!) but this was very much on my mind as we set a date and prepared for this celebration of the twins’ birth. The cake, which my mum sorted out, captured this wonderfully in its text and rainbow features.

Although the day was a celebration for us, we also heard at the end of the church service some tragic news about the sudden death of a toddler related to a couple of members of the congregation. It is really hard to make sense of such a devastating situation. It was not long ago that I met the toddler at church when she played in the crèche room with her parents as I sat feeding the twins. This kind of tragic event could happen to any family. As I prayed for them later in the day, I felt that hearing this news on a day that we were celebrating life was a reminder of the transience and fragility of life, and that makes me even more thankful for each and every day I get to spend with our gifts of children.


Twin bump in “Take a Break”

A few months ago I was contacted by a freelance journalist via email. She’d seen me comment on a Facebook post with a picture of the twins tandem wrapped when they were a couple of months old, and wanted to talk to me about baby twins. I agreed to the phone call, and thought initially that she was interested in my twin slinging.

But it turned out she’d seen my blog, liked that I’d taken weekly bump shots, and thought a women’s lifestyle magazine would like a story about a twin pregnancy with some large bump pictures. She’d read quite a bit about the pregnancy already on the blog, and chatted through it some more with me. Then a few weeks later she confirmed that she’d managed to sell the story to Take a Break, and I agreed to it.

A couple of months later I had a call from a journalist working at Take a Break who wanted another short chat with me about the pregnancy, and she’d also already read some of the pregnancy diary on the blog. She went away to write the final story, and a week later she rang me and read what she’d written back to me. I made a few changes (quite hard on the phone with babies around!) and agreed to go to print.

This week the edition of the magazine with our story in is out on sale. I just admit it’s not my normal genre of reading material, but it turned out to be quite a nice little article. The journalists really wanted to push the size of the bump and the weights of the babies, which were good for twins. I wish it didn’t say that “my consultant decided I needed a Caesarean”, I must have missed that when she read it back over the phone. I was the one who made the ultimate decision based on the facts I was presented with by doctors and my own research. But I did manage to correct the journalist’s use of the term “morning sickness” to severe pregnancy sickness, so I count that a small step forward in the media’s reporting of hyperemesis gravidarum.

It also means we got some cash from the story to put towards something the twins need like the next stage (extended rear facing) car seats.

Birthday cakes – 2012-2017

As I think ahead to the new year, one of the first things we need to organise is celebrating Andrew and Tom’s birthday (on the same day!) Each year, much of my thought and time goes towards baking and decorating the cake for Andrew. I shared some of my creations a few years ago on this blog, but I’ve just realised that with my lapse in blogging over the past few years, I haven’t documented half the cakes I’ve made. So here they are to date….

Andrew’s 1st birthday

Andrew’s 2nd birthday

Andrew’s 3rd birthday

Andrew’s 4th birthday

This was the first birthday cake that he asked me to make for him, whereas previously I’d done something I thought he’d like. He had enjoyed his Thunderbird 3 so much when he was 3!

Andrew’s 5th birthday

He requested a train that looks like the cross country ones he used to see at Birmingham New Street.

Andrew’s 6th birthday

He requested a Go Jetters cake as it was his favourite TV programme at the time. I’d always wanted to do a layered rainbow sponge and it went well with the GJ theme.

Joel’s 1st birthday

Joel’s 2nd birthday

Joel’s 3rd birthday

At the time he was fascinated by the building site down the road that we passed on our way to and from school with Andrew every day.

Joel’s 4th birthday

He was so sad to leave the beach on our last day of holiday in August, so we talked about how I could make a beach cake for his birthday in October to look forward to and remember our holiday.

Joel’s 5th  birthday

For his first birthday party with friends from school, he decided that he wanted a café theme, because playing cafés was his favourite role play game at the time.

I’m looking forward to making three or four cakes each year from now on!

6 months of breastfeeding twins

The last time I wrote about breastfeeding the twins, they were 3 weeks old and things had gotten off to a great start. I’m pleased to say that it has continued to go very well for us. We’re now coming up to six months on Wednesday, which is quite a bittersweet milestone. On the one hand I’m glad that as they start to eat solid food, the amount of formula that we’ll need to supplement my low milk supply will decrease, and that other people will be able to help out with their nutrition intake. But on the other hand I enjoy being the centre of their world, and although I’ll still be that for a long time, this marks another step in their journey to independence. Don’t get me wrong, I do have days when it’s exhausting and I don’t enjoy it so much, but overall I’m happy to respond to their nutritional and emotional needs in this way and will miss it as they need breastfeeding less over time. I plan to let them self wean like the older boys did, so I don’t know how long we’ve got, but I hope quite a while yet.

There have been ups and downs over the past few months, particularly with regards to sleep. The dreaded 4/5 month sleep regression hit at around 4 and a half months. This is a completely normal developmental phase and shows that they are learning lots of new skills, but it was extremely difficult with twins! When all is well I don’t think twins are any harder than two singletons close in age like I had with the boys, but when they’re going through a leap/growth spurt/sleep regression at exactly the same time, that’s definitely the hardest part about twins compared to two singletons.

I have done lots of overnight feeding, though sometimes they’d be awake without wanting milk. Before the regression I used to prefer tandem feeding them as nice sleepy babies at night, so I’d try to wake Naomi to have a go at feeding when Samuel inevitably awoke before her, and she’d sometimes have a bit of a dream feed but was pretty much sleeping through the night (much to my amazement at this age as none of the boys have done that so young!) But once the regression hit I preferred to feed them lying down in bed to maximise my dozing time with all the wake ups, and that’s only really possible for me one at a time, so I would actually be quite thankful if they tag teamed then, as long as they settled again, which wasn’t always the case and my days ended up starting at 3/3:30 am!

A few things really helped us get through the increased night waking. Firstly we have a bed which is set up for safe cosleeping. Next to our double bed is a cot bed with one side off that is attached with cord to the bed frame, and the mattress pushed right against our bed with noodle floats (under the sheet) down the gap against the other side of the cot bed. This means the babies have their own space, but I can simply slide them to and away from me to feed in the night as needed. Tom sleeps downstairs so I have the double bed which allows me to tandem feed safely sat up with the tandem pillow if necessary. I would find it much harder to settle them both, and get up and bend down over in to a separate cot if we had that.

Secondly I have taken any opportunity to nap in the daytime when I can. This means weekends when Tom is around and some weekdays when my parents have come over. I go to bed when the babies settle anyway, so I can’t get any earlier a night, but even just an hour in the day makes me feel better. The babies nap well in the slings for Daddy and grandparents too whilst I nap. Some might say that it would be helpful if others could give them a bottle and give me rest in that way, but unless someone is going to help me all through the night, it wouldn’t really gain us anything. I’d rather Tom got sleep so he can work well, look after the boys and do housework, which I’d only have to do instead if he helped feed the babies. And I’d rather sit and feed babies whilst tired than try to do anything else.

Thirdly I find with breastfeeding that I get back off to sleep much more quickly after being woken than I have done in the past when not breastfeeding. This is down to the hormones involved. So if I’m going to be woken up, I like the fact I drop off again as soon as they settle. I think that aspect would be much harder for me if I wasn’t breastfeeding because I know I find it hard to fall asleep again if woken abruptly.

Thankfully we seem to have come out of this sleep regression now, after about a month of broken sleep, ranging from mildly unpleasant to downright horrendous nights within that month. Naomi is back to sleeping ridiculously well for her age and Samuel is normal for his age with a few wake ups for feeding and relatively quick to settle. I seem to have written a lot about sleep here! It is inherently linked to feeding because most of the times that they wake they want to feed to some extent, though there have been times when they were just wide awake and happy in the early hours without wanting milk. And the fact that they have spontaneously snapped back into each of their “normalities”, without us changing anything, shows it wasn’t that they needing weaning into solids to help them sleep any better, which is still quite a prevalent idea in our society despite the NHS advice to wait until around 6 months to introduce solids.

Before they were born, one of my apprehensions about breastfeeding twins was the logistics of feeding both together or one after the other, and also how that would work with our set up with the supplemental nursing system (SNS). I have been so pleased with my second hand purchase of the Peanut and Piglet tandem feeding pillow. It fits my body shape and size brilliantly and is so comfortable for the three of us. The twins still fall asleep on it sometimes and I usually enjoy the rest I get when trapped underneath it, which is even more comfortable with the addition of a travel neck pillow to rest my head. I can see us using it for several months to come; I think they’ll grow out of it in terms of their arm flailing and whacking each other at the front before they grow out of it length wise! I don’t tandem feed all the time, less so when I have help to entertain the other one, and often even if both are on the pillow with me they’re not necessarily both feeding simultaneously, sometimes I’m just holding the non-feeding one sat up next to me.

I’m also really pleased with how our homemade supplemental nursing systems have worked this time. I got into using the homemade version towards the end of feeding Joel with it, having previously relied on the Medela branded version with both boys. Our version is basically an ordinary baby bottle with a thin (size French 4) NG tube pushed through the teat. I find this system easier to clean and sterilise than the branded one, and the flow seems easier to regulate. I found some tubes on eBay – they are puppy feeding tubes – and then got some more through a family member who is a vet nurse. Since we have bottles anyway because I mix up formula in those as it’s not really possible to do it in the Medela SNS itself, this makes the homemade version quite a bit cheaper. I use a Lactaid branded system when out and about because it has a neck strap so I can keep it there under my top to feed as and when I need to when we’re out. I was kindly gifted this by another twin mum, but I wouldn’t buy one myself as it is very expensive to import from the USA, and to use long term would work out even more expensive as you have to buy more disposable bags to refill. I don’t need a neck strap at home because I can rest the bottle on the tandem pillow or hold it in my hand when single feeding.

I’ve found that it’s only practical to feed one at a time with the SNS, because even with the tandem pillow I need both hands to position the tube properly on each baby at a time, and since they’ve been more grabby with their hands and pull it out a fair amount when feeding, it’s impossible to have two tubes – I’ve tried a couple of times and it just ends up a big flailing mess. But it seems to work out that one is happy to suck on bare breast while the other has the tube, and only when they are both really grumpy or overtired does tandem feeding get a bit vocal. I’ve not been able to connect with any other twin mums who have used the SNS long term, so it’s been a case of experimenting with what works for us. Both babies seem to be feeding, growing and developing well, so we’ve not changed things when they’ve worked.

It’s such a good feeling to be able to say that the twins have been fed exclusively at the breast for 6 months! They haven’t had a single bottle in that time, and I don’t intend that they will ever need one now. Of course they have had formula to top up my supply, but it’s all been consumed via the SNS. This means they have maximised the amount of milk they’ve got from me, and we’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of a breastfeeding relationship that go beyond the milk. I know that for twins we are blessed to be in this situation. It’s not unusual for twins to be born early and therefore struggle to feed at the breast for days, weeks or months. Despite my chronic low supply, we’ve had it quite easy in this respect. Strangely I don’t feel that unusual in the twin breastfeeding world compared to in the singleton breastfeeding world. I think it’s because lots of twins end up being mixed fed breastmilk and formula at some point, either short or long term, and for the first time I’ve really felt like I fit into the online breastfeeding community in the form of the Breastfeeding Twins and Triplets UK Facebook group. It took me to have twins to feel like I belong!

It’s apt that in the same week that were marking 6 months, I’m also starting an online course with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers to become a breastfeeding peer supporter. I’d been thinking about this for some time, but when the opportunity came up to do it with a funded place via a crowdfunder campaign in the Facebook group I mentioned above, I thought it was finally the right time. I think my experience would be useful to share with other mums, in terms of twins and breastfeeding with low supply. I’ll blog more about how I intend to use the qualification when I’ve done more of the course.

I know there will be more challenges ahead, but 6 months feels to me like the hardest milestone to reach, so it’s a big achievement in my mind to celebrate, and the first one I was determined to get to. I’m looking forward to the next 6 months and beyond now!