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Back-to-back babies prove real handful; Becoming a parent for the first time offers one of life's great challenges - but having two babies in quick succession is a whole new ball game. Journal writer and pregnant mother of a toddler, MIEKA SMILES, shares her fears, and gets out her notebook 'Hitting the jackpot twice'.

LILY Allen has done it. Peaches Geldof is doing it. Does that make me feel any more relaxed about the prospect of having two babies under two? Does it Nelly.

It's safe to say that, since finding out I was pregnant with baby number two, my husband and I have been in a kind of denial about the challenges which lie ahead.

We've tried our best to not think about the sleepless nights, the teething and the weaning - which will, of course all come in addition to any toddler troubles we're already dealing with - and concentrate on the lovely things that will hopefully go hand in hand with having two children close together.

To say I was shocked at finding out we were expecting for a second time is an understatement - after taking the test I almost fell off the toilet.

But although we've found first-time parenting hard at times - and that's putting it mildly - we are hoping things will work out for the best and George, our funny, cheeky 22-month-old, will get on famously with his new brother or sister (when he's not trying to sneakily "feed" it raisins).

Our next bundle is due in six weeks time, meaning George will be almost two.

As I'm about to step into an unknown realm of motherhood, I thought it might be a good - and calming - idea to talk to a couple of mums who've been there, done it (with a smaller age gap than we're going to enjoy, too) and are wearing what I would imagine will be a baby sick or puree-soaked T-shirt.

BEV HILDRETH, 32, is a customer adviser and her husband Paul, 41, is a head chef. They live in Thornaby, Teesside, with their children Charlotte, 19 months and Isabelle six months. Bev says: "It's 8.30pm, both babies are fast asleep and I now have time to reflect on the last 19 months. "Getting pregnant the first time was a massive job. It took us the best part of five years, two operations and the start of the adoption procedure before we were lucky enough to hit the jackpot. "Not just once - but twice! "I had a fairly easy pregnancy and swift, straightforward birth with Charlotte. But with it taking so long to conceive Charlotte we decided we wouldn't try to prevent falling pregnant after she was born, but also weren't trying to fall pregnant again. Who wins the lottery twice? "12 weeks later I had the familiar 'flu' like feelings - feeling cold and just not right. Paul pointed out these symptoms appeared in early pregnancy last time. We did a test and sure enough those all-important two lines showed up again. "This time it was more scary to tell the family. We really weren't sure how they would react. For us it was the worry of money and whether I would be entitled to another maternity pay so close together. "I returned to work for three months. I would run Charlotte to my auntie's and my parents' houses before work, do a shift and then scoop her back up - all with a growing bump. It was difficult but we got there.

"The last few weeks were the hardest as I was put on bed rest with pubic symphysis diastasis (PSD) - which is pubic bone pain. "Having focused all our time, love and attention on Charlotte, we were concerned how we could split it between two and give them enough equal time without showing favouritism. These concerns soon disappeared after Isabelle came along. It's easy to love and care for them both without trying! "Their first meeting for me was amazing. Charlotte patted her sister and crawled off! At home, though, the sister bond started straight away. Now, six months in, they look at each other and giggle, give each other kisses and smiles. "Adapting to being a mum of two is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Looking after one is hard but two was another level. "Working out the simple jobs like getting down stairs on a morning; going to the toilet; and when a leaky nappy appears, working out how to get two babies upstairs without getting poo everywhere! "It was very hard to start with, but now I'm glad I had the girls so close together and wouldn't change a thing. I have the family I longed for. All the luxuries have gone, but I wake up every day to the sound of my babies chatting to each other and I'm reminded I'm rich in love and family. "Would I do it again? Yes...but not right now!" BABY JOY, BUT IT'S A CHALLENGE AILSA Bradley, 32, and Andrew Bradley, 44, are both police officers living in Middleton St George, County Durham, with their children Oliver, one year and two weeks, and Charlotte, six weeks. Ailsa says: "Becoming a mother has totally changed my life. "I love spending time with the children, but it's quite demanding at times - especially when both of them need feeding at the same time or are both crying. The smiles which Charlotte gives and Oliver's personality, which is starting to show, all make up for it though. "We weren't planning on having children this close together and it came as quite a shock when I found out I was pregnant again so soon. We wondered how we were going to cope. "I found my second pregnancy harder than the first because my husband suffers with multiple sclerosis (MS) and as his mobility is deteriorating quite fast a lot of duties fall to me. "I wasn't worried about how Oliver would react to Charlotte because he is such a laid back and happy baby. But I was really worried about having another baby so soon because I knew it would be hard work looking after two babies and my husband having MS.

"I was also worried about how we would cope financially as my husband may lose his job due to his illness. "Another concern was that I wouldn't be able to spend as much time with Oliver and miss out on him growing up. But when Charlotte arrived I made sure that Oliver was involved. "When Charlotte is crying we will talk to Oliver and we will let him sit next to her when she is sleeping and tell him she is his sister. "I have found we are spending a lot of money on nappies, food and milk for the children. "Charlotte has been suffering with colic so we have had to change her milk to a comfort milk which is about PS1.50 more expensive than the original milk. "I would have chosen to breast feed and save money, but as I have a benign brain tumour, which I am on medication for life for, I am unable to do so. "If I could change anything it would be for my husband not to have MS and to have a larger age gap between the children, just to make life that bit easier. But I absolutely love the children and my husband to pieces and things will eventually get easier with the children as they grow up."

CAPTION(S):

MULTI-MUMS Lily Allen and, right, Peaches Geldof

'DENIAL' Mieka Smiles, with George and his brother/ sister-to-be
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 26, 2013
Words:1213
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