I will never forget the moment I peed on a stick to discover I was pregnant with my second child.
My husband and I had been out to dinner the night before at the local Italian to celebrate our little boy's first birthday, enjoying a fine bottle of red (or possibly two), as we reflected on our first year of parenthood.
It had been tough - but we did it! And things were getting easier every day.
Our little Leo had consistently started sleeping through the night (finally!), I was back working four days a week, he was settled in daycare and we'd even survived that first brutal winter of perpetual daycare sickness.
As I clutched the white stick, did the maths in the head, and realised there would be an 19-month gap between my two babies, I thought 'Well, f---. That's remarkably close'.
While we were completely overjoyed, as having two kids was always part of our dream, I was also rather shocked. And petrified.
We were on the brink of starting IVF when I fell pregnant with our first son, after almost two years of failed attempts and the tick-tock of my biological clock, so I certainly wasn't expecting to conceive so quickly the second time around.
Could I really manage two babies with such a small age gap?
What I want you to know...
And now here I am, emerging out 'the other side', I can retrospectively and definitively say that I had every right to be concerned.
Having two kids close together is really, really tough. Honestly, those first few months with a newborn and a toddler are a complete blur. So many tears, mostly mine. UTTER BEDLAM.
So you see, every time I see a beautiful new mum, like you, pushing a double pram, desperately trying to settle her newborn while her overactive toddler runs off in the other direction, I just want to give you a great big hug.
And I want to whisper a few simple truths in your ear.
I want you to know, that no matter how chaotic and overwhelming it all seems, you will come out the other side.
I want you to know that it really does get easier.
I know that you are tired. Devastatingly tired. I know you were already sleep-deprived when you were heavily pregnant with a toddler who still wakes sometimes during the night - and now there is a newborn screaming at you for food or a cuddle every two hours. I know it feels like you will never sleep again.
I know how much it hurts and your eyes and body are aching.
I know how anxious you feel. How difficult it is to simultaneously soothe a newborn while your toddler screams for your attention.
I know how impossible it feels to leave the house - to fold up the pram, carry the capsule, pack the stupid bag, magic up some snacks, all while stopping the toddler from taking out everything in the kitchen cupboard and squashing his baby brother.
I know how terribly guilty you feel dropping your one-year-old at daycare just so you can get through the day.
I know you miss your independence and your former sense of self. I know you just want to go to the toilet alone.
But mama, please hang in there. Because it's totally worth it.
Also, please let me share with you a few things I learnt along the way...
A few tips
I remember wondering why I found it so hard to look after my two gorgeous babies when women have, apparently, been raising multiple offspring since the dawn of time. And usually without help. I was constantly anxious and felt like a failure.
Sure supermum over there with four kids under four appears to be effortlessly managing her tribe, but who knows what's happening behind closed doors? Who knows about her exact situation. There is nothing to be gained by comparing and making yourself feel inadequate.
It's 100 per cent okay to admit that you are struggling.
Oh, if you make it out the door with both before 11am, give yourself a god damn high five!
Invest in a double pram
The whole idea of a double pram sent shivers down my spine. Many mums swear by baby carriers with two under two and yes, there are skateboard attachments for single prams, but I found having both kids contained in the one place saved my sanity.
I did a lot of research and in the end went for a Mountain Buggy Duet (no, this is not sponsored). I tried different brands and set-ups but much preferred the side-by-side options over tandem - too cumbersome and bus-like - and the Duet is the narrowest double on the market. Go to the baby shop and fond out what works best for you and your needs. There are loads available second-hand on gumtree if you can't afford to fork out for a new one.
I still use it most days when I take the boys for a walk.
Locate enclosed parks
Still on the subject of containment, make sure you research and are very familiar with the best fenced playgrounds in your local area. When you are trying to manage a baby and running toddler - it's a lot less stressful if you know they can't escape! I still love an enclosed park now the boys are older. Cue, a potential minute of relax time!
Oh, and if there is a cafe within shouting distance, consider it a double win.
Some form of childcare for the toddler
I realise I was lucky to have the luxury of daycare for my eldest even for one day a week while I was on maternity leave, but having those precious days where I knew my darling boy was being loved, fed and stimulated really helped ease my anxiety. It also kept his spot secure until I went back to work again.
If daycare isn't an option, then definitely try to set up a regular time where a grandparent, or someone in your extended family or friendship network can play with your toddler so you can catch your breath and have some one-on-one time with the baby.
Shower your toddler with love
Equally important - block out some dedicated one-on-one time with your toddler every week. Feelings of jealousy are naturally going to occur as they adapt to life with a little brother or sister, so make a fuss over them when the opportunity presents itself. And involve them in looking after the baby whenever you can, a) because it is completely adorable and b) they love thinking they are helpful and it will aid the whole adjustment process.
You can't do everything or be everywhere at once, and you only have one pair of hands. Just do your best, mama.
Hell hath no fury like a parent doing the groceries with a baby and a toddler (hmm... okay maybe two toddlers is worse. *Sobs*). Please save yourself the pain and shop online as much as you can. And stock up on frozen meals. Convenience is everything in those early days. I didn't have a supermarket in walking distance so this became particularly critical.
Oh and if anyone asks you if there is anything you need, ask for a Dinner Ladies voucher (also not sponsored)!
Sync their naps
Alright, I realise this one is about as helpful as 'sleep when the baby sleeps', because even when you try to orchestrate the impossible, it's usually out of your control. But find a way to increase the probability!
My boys got very good at sleeping in the car, so I wouldn't even try to get one down in the cot - but just pop them both in the car and drive around until I saw them both nod off. And there it was, I finally had a moment to myself - even if it was on the side of the road behind the steering wheel.
The simultaneous nap is actual NIRVANA when you have two under two. Keep it in your sights.
Take help when it's offered
Please. Just do it. The thing that REALLY struck me after having my second bub, were all the empathetic mothers who had been in the same boat years earlier and just wanted to make sure I was okay.
'Oh god, you poor thing… are you okay? Please can I help?' 'Can I take the toddler to the park? Hold your baby while you wrangle the toddler?' 'Ill come over one evening and pour you wine?'
I honestly got so many lovely offers from mums I didn't even know that well.
Just say yes.
I felt too embarrassed to a couple of times and regret it to this day.
Focus on the positives
I promise you this - raising and observing two little people so close in age is a truly special thing.
The bond between my beautiful boys, who are now 2.5 and four, is just so amazing and precious. Two little BFFs taking on the world. All the happiness they have brought into our lives far outweighs the struggle. (And my god, there was a lot of struggle).
Deep breaths, mama. Try to embrace the chaos and enjoy each and every one of the small moments that make you smile.
You got this mama, I know you do.