Finding out you are expecting twins must be both an amazing and daunting feeling, so imagine having that experience twice, and being a mum to six children in total. Oh, and also running your own business.
That's the life of Kate Ball, 42, from Leeds who shares five girls and a boy with her husband Matt, 39. The couple run the multi-award winning company Mini First Aid which offers quality baby and child first aid classes to parents, carers and children.
Kate, husband Matt and their six children
Twins don't run in Kate and Matt's families – the pair only intended to have three children maximum – yet now they are parents to two sets of twins 20 months apart and their older children Alfie, 11, and Grace, nine.
The couple welcomed non-identical twins Emily and Olivia, now aged five, in October 2016, and their second set of non-identical twins Poppy and Amelia, age three, in June 2018.
HELLO! spoke to Kate about her life as a very busy mum-of-six to find out how she juggles it all. Read her inspiring story below in her own words…
Kate and Matt's baby plans
My husband Matt and I always wanted to have three children. First, we had a boy, Alfie, and then a girl, Grace, and most people said, 'You've done it, you've got one of each, surely you'll stop now?'
I was like, 'No, no, no!' For us, it was the empty seat in the middle of the back of the car. I'd say, 'There's a space! There's room for one more.'
Mum-of-six Kate Ball
We always wanted three, and in fact, in trying to have three I had what's called a missed miscarriage after I had Grace. I didn't find out till I had my 12-week scan and had to have surgery. It was grim, very miserable. My body still thought I was pregnant and I had a bump because it was my third pregnancy. It was horrible.
We decided we needed to have a break for some healing time. When we tried again, that's when we got the twins. It felt like a gift, in the fact that we had lost a baby and our bonus was that we got two.
Then it escalated to having four. We had wanted that kid in the middle seat of the car, and suddenly we had a car we couldn't fit them in, so we had to buy a new car!
Finding out twins were on the way
I remember going for the scan and I was so nervous because of losing the baby before.
It was the same sonographer. She was taking a little while but then she went, 'I've got two heartbeats'. I can still remember her saying it. We were delighted and positively enjoyed telling everybody. Matt's really practical so he was all, 'Well I'll research the cars and the buggies.'
Lots of my friends who were sticking at two said, 'You're mad!' But unless you have IVF you can't plan for two. For us, it was a surprise. Twins don't run in our families.
Our first twins are non-identical, so they had their own placentas, their own sacs. As a twin pregnancy goes, it's the most risk-free you can have. I was enormous as it was my fourth pregnancy because of the miscarriage, but I was very healthy.
Life with four children
When we had our first set of twins, Alfie and Grace were in school, so it gave me time with the babies during the school day and time to get my head around managing twins. It wasn't my first time looking after babies, so I was quite secure in the 'being a mum' bit.
I say that… in the middle of the night I was still going, 'What's wrong with them? Why are they crying?!' The sleep deprivation is an utter killer with twins because you get one settled and then the other one wakes up.
Having the four of them was very busy. We were out and about with the babies when they were really tiny because we had to be, doing the school run and taking the older two to their activities.
Matt was working and continued running our business and he's also a professional musician so he was also touring. I did the lion's share of the nights but he was aware of when he needed to help. He's always been a very hands-on dad.
I have a very solid group of friends – we met through NCT – and because none of them had more than two children, my twins were a novelty so there were lots of people who helped me.
The twins meet the twins!
Expecting twins… again!
There are 20 months between both sets of twins, so Emily and Olivia were about 11 months old when I fell pregnant again.
They were sleeping well by then, so we found that we could get some childcare and go out, and maybe have a gin and tonic and … the rest is history!
There was no plan to have any more. I have subsequently found out that when you produce two eggs and have non-identical twins, your body carries on doing that – that was probably happening every month in my cycle.
When we found out at the scan about the second twins, Matt said, 'Well, I thought that may be the case, I've read that, I've seen the research.' I was like, 'Why didn't you tell me that?!'
I remember feeling very anxious that there would be a problem with my pregnancy. We were already so stretched managing four kids and the business, that the risk of something going wrong or a baby being born that wasn't well, could have been massive for us. Or what if the pregnancy was debilitating for me, as I'd just had the babies.
I'm a very positive person but at that stage, I was glass half empty. What if something went wrong?
Can you believe it was the same sonographer again? She remembered us and was like 'Wow guys, wow.' We sat there in total shock.
This time, because so many people had supported us in having four kids, I knew that their reactions may be different, like, 'What have you done?' When I rang my mum and told her she went, 'Tell me it's not twins'! I said, 'Actually….'
Of course, they've gone on to be totally delighted. Our friends' reactions were:' Oh cr**, this is pretty serious Kate. Six children – nobody has six kids. That's not a thing.'
Matt put his practical hat on thinking about sorting childcare, the business, what buggy we'd have, where they were all going to sleep. The little ones were still in their cots, so there was a lot of shunting around of bedrooms.
Super mum and dad with their six children
I had vaginal deliveries for all of my kids. For both sets of twins, I had my waters broken and they were both born at 37 weeks, which is great for twins as a high percentage are born prematurely.
Our first twins, Emily and Olivia, were a good weight, about the five-pound mark each, didn't need any assistance and were home in a couple of days.
Poppy and Amelia were a bit different. Poppy was five pounds and Amelia only three pounds, she was really dinky – we think her placenta had stopped growing. She had to go to special care for five or six days, but she was fine thank goodness. As babies, Poppy was quite a bit bigger than Amelia and she still is.
Life with two sets of twins
After Poppy and Amelia were born, life was crazy!
When you look at the cost of childcare, it's cheaper to get a nanny than pay for nursery, so that's what we did. A lot of people go, 'Ooh, how posh!' but it was a functional thing and cost-effective.
The nanny and I were like a double act with the kids. For the first 12 weeks with Poppy and Amelia, I was relentlessly feeding so I needed help. But I didn't have overnight help, she was 9am-5pm and she worked with us until the girls were nearly one.
The amazing quad buggy
The big thing was – and it continues to be a problem now – is all the children want me. With our nanny, if mummy was available, that's who they preferred. That's the status you crave when becoming a mum but you're also desperate to pass the kids over without them getting upset.
Fortunately, new babies don't care who they're being cuddled by so I would hand the new twins over, so I could be with the middle twins or the older two and they could have a piece of me.
But honestly, the mum guilt is raging. It's constant. You'll have something happening at school where you go, I've got to be there even though I have these tiny toddlers and babies. So yeah, I ran myself ragged.
I still feel like that. Even more so now because they're all developing and are more vocal about what they want. They want mummy and they give me a lot of grief.
Yes, they are all great and very secure in all the activities they do, but the constant juggle is huge - and they are mobile now. It was easier when they were babies in a car seat or cot – now everybody goes to bed, you turn around and there's one behind you!
What a gorgeous bunch!
The daily routine
We have good sleepers! We did some serious sleep training and we have very strict bedtimes. The kids wake at about 7am; some mornings we have to wake them up.
At one point the four babies slept in the same room and they were amazingly resilient to noise going on in the room, lights going on, baby being changed.
Mornings in our house, we set an alarm and have a routine. Matt and I both have our jobs. Matt will go down and make everyone breakfast and I'll sort everyone's clothes.
From 8am, Grace is out the door, then there's Alfie, then we leave with the four little ones, drop them in their reception class and take the girls to pre-school. Then everyone is in their place for the next six hours. It's all very regimented, even down to packed lunches.
Matt and I always say to each other that if we drop a ball at night, like leaving the dishwasher or not sorting the school bags, you can guarantee the next day it goes wrong. If I don't get the uniforms out and hang them on the pegs in their bedrooms, the next morning all hell will break loose. It's constant.
For them, there are 12 shoes! Yes, there are only six pairs – but that's if they're all together in the same location. The kids have all got a basket with their names on so they put their shoes in the basket. That's the idea. The reality is they come in and kick them off in the hall.
We do eight loads of laundry a week. I used to do it every day but our house felt like a constant laundry, so now we do it a couple of days a week.
In the evening, the four little ones used to have a bath together which was very cute, but now there are too many arms and legs and too much fighting, so it's two in the shower, two in the bath. Then it's a story and bed by 7pm.
I look at the clock at 5pm and go, 'I've got two hours left!'
The challenge now is that Alfie and Grace are getting older and don't go to be bed till about 9pm. We're in mourning for our evenings!
How Alfie feels being the only boy
He has a bit of bravado about it. He rolls his eyes a lot. But he's at the age now where he realises it's to his advantage.
We get a lot of attention when we're out and about and he has this swagger about him that sort of says, 'Yeah, they're all my sisters'.
When I had the second set of twins, we had a quad buggy called an adventure buggy with the two sets on different levels. We'd walk along the road and it was like a massive machine of babies and Alfie and Grace would be walking with me, so they would get used to being stopped. People would say, 'Oh you're mummy's little helper'.
We get all kinds of comments when we're out like, 'Ooh double trouble' or 'Oh you've got your hands full' and 'Are they all yours?' I get, 'Are you a childminder?' a lot. 'Did you plan them? Did you want them?' We grin and go, 'Yeah, they're ours.'
Matt loves it because he looks like super dad. I was recently out for the day and he took them all to the café. He felt like a hero. He was completely broken by the time I got home.
Alfie, Grace and their younger sisters
How the six kids get along
It's like a pre-school! The little ones all play together – we have two that love watching the telly and two who get home and change straight into princess dresses and do role play games.
They're good company for each other so we don't have as many playdates for them – plus there are too many kids in the house already!
Sometimes Matt and I look at them all and go, 'Wow they're amazing. They're all getting on, we've nailed it.' Then other days they will literally take it in turns to scream at each other and cry. At that point I go, 'Ah I need to escape'.
There's one evening in the week where I meet some friends for a drink when Grace is at cubs. Then Matt does similar while Alfie is at karate on Friday night.
It's only for an hour and a half but there's something about having that break. We also book a babysitter sometimes and go out together. We have to plan it though. Generally for us, if we're not with the kids, we're at work.
I'm not very good at doing nothing. I've got spa day vouchers sat there which are three years old. The thought of sitting in a spa for a day makes me a bit edgy because my brain is too busy to sit still.
Matt and I have to work really hard not to be horrible to each other because we live on the edge of being exhausted all the time.
I have lots and energy and smiles when I'm with my friends but then you turn it off when you come home because you can, you're in that safe space.
We are horribly grumpy with each other, and we work together as well, so sometimes we have to go, 'I'm really sorry, I was pretty mean' and sometimes we just have to not speak.
It was either going to make or break us I think.
Kate's business Mini First Aid
When Alfie was little, I realised there was a big gap in the market for first aid training for parents and I really wanted to have my own business.
My brother Matt passed away when he was 23 and I was 25. He had a condition called Cardiomyopathy which is a disease of the heart muscle. Sadly for him had been undetected and was very serious. When he went into cardiac arrest he was running on a beach in Portsmouth and unfortunately he couldn't be revived. The young people who were with him didn't know how to do CPR.
I'd been drowning in grief, and it was another ten years on when I had Alfie that I had the idea for my business and it all came together.
We started at my kitchen table, training people at home and now we're training a thousand families a week. It's bonkers, and I love it. We have 70 franchises. As well as training thousands of parents and carers in first aid, we've also trained 65,000 children.
Kate and Matt appearing on Dragon's Den
Will there be a baby number seven?
We are totally done with six kids!
I've not lost the broody bit – that's never gone away. When I see pregnant ladies or very new babies, that feeling of a new baby breathing on you or being in a sling close to you is so lovely, but then I wake myself up from the daydream and someone is drawing on the walls in my house.
I'm feeling too old physically. I still have to have weekly physio around my pelvic floor and lower back to keep me functioning and I do quite a lot of exercise to make myself physically fit enough to be up to the game of parenting them all. It's a lot of lifting and they're all really heavy now! Sometimes all four of them want to sit on me at the same time.
When I think about the future, there is something in the fact that my girls now may go on to be multiple egg producers like me and might have twins themselves. It will be interesting to see if any of my girls have twins. Think of how many grandchildren!
Maybe they'll be like, 'Crikey, it was so manic, I'm not going to have any kids and I'm going to live in peace and quiet.' You never know.