When someone’s going through a tough time it’s instinctive to empathise. “I know just how you feel”, we say. But do we really?
Last week I headed to London to record a programme for Radio 4’s spring series, Between Ourselves. Presented by Olivia O’Leary, the show features discussions between two people who have had similar experiences. Previous episodes have brought together opera singers, headmasters and even two women who had lost their sight. Inevitably common ground is found between the two participants as the discussion develops, but just as interesting are the differences in perspective which emerge. However similar the event, no two people will ever experience it in quite the same way.
This particular episode is about parenting multiples. What’s it like to discover you’re having twins – or more? What impact does it have on your life when two become four overnight? As presenter Olivia O’Leary asks, is it really like winning life’s lottery?
The BBC Broadcasting house is a truly beautiful building and as I waited at reception I imagined the people who had walked through its doors. Star spotting radio presenters proved tricky; perhaps if I closed my eyes and tuned into their conversations… I was nudged awake by the man next to me, reading his newspaper aloud, complete with explosive commentary to accompany every story.
“Thirty five? Forty five if she’s a day!”
I hoped he wasn’t talking about me, but concluded that Broadcasting House attracted the eccentric. He shuffled off shortly afterwards, leaving his paper neatly folded on the seat. Just as I was craning my neck to see who it was that looked older than her years, Zoe Ball swept through reception in a whirl of fur coat and heels. Finally a name I could later drop.
We recorded the programme in a tiny studio on the sixth floor, with few interruptions and scarcely a need to re-do a question. The other guest, Dawn – mother of nine year old triplets – was warm and open, and we got on immediately. We discussed our pregnancies, the shock of the scan, and the difficulty in simply leaving the house in those early days. We talked about triple buggies and the cost of childcare, and how impossible it is to go to the loo on your own when you’re the mother of three small children.
It was comforting to find acknowledgement of the small things I suspect many of my friends would not see; how holding your daughter’s hand is a treat for her and for you, because you always have one more child than you have hands.
Olivia asked for my own story; the premature birth of my sons, the death of my eldest, my subsequent pregnancy with twin girls. Adamant I wouldn’t cry, I edged my way through the questions, feeling a little braver with each one. We touched on the numbness I felt following the girls’ birth and how much more likely it is for post-natal depression to occur in mothers of multiples.
I left the studio exhausted yet exhilarated and headed to Oxford Street for some retail therapy. Dawn and I had differed on only one point, and I mulled it over for the rest of the day.
Would I have preferred to have had my children one at a time?
Dawn would have done. She said she would have enjoyed the one to one, would have felt less stressed, been less pressured that way. I simply can’t imagine it. Having had two sets of twins doesn’t define me, but it undoubtedly changed me, and I wouldn’t undo that for the world. My children have to fight for attention, they have to share toys, hang back for a cuddle, wait until it’s their turn to hold my hand. That’s all part of being a multiple, and I wouldn’t have that any other way either.
Between Ourselves will be aired early April. To make sure you don’t miss it, make sure you ‘like’ my Facebook page, where I’ll be sure to post an update when the programme’s listed.