Ok, so I scared you all in the last post with my admonition to avoid having multiples. Oops, too late! You’re having your own gaggle of goslings. No namby pamby one at a time stuff for you! You’re gonna “get ‘er done” all in one! Woo, hoo!
Well, truthfully, there may be some things that are harder to enjoy while juggling twins…BUT, there are also many joys unique to twin parenting. Stepping into parenthood brings you into a previously hidden world. Twin parenthood is a special sliver of that world and the people who walk that way can be astoundingly kind and supportive. You will get to know these people. You will also have a chance to see infancy and childhood from the unusual perspective of watching two different babies go thru the same stages. Often they may go thru those stages a year apart and yet be totally on track. And while the early years can be harder with twins, the later years can be easier. (Sometimes…I make no promises. Kids are all different!)
If you’re pregnant with twins, or more, you may have greeted the news with excitement or anxiety. Often people feel some combination of the two. In general, I find the more informed I am on something the less worrisome it becomes. At times of uncertainty in life, my wise mother’s advice was always to “get more data.” The idea is the more you know on an issue, the less conflicted, ambivalent, and anxious you feel. When you make decisions from a place of knowledge you feel more confident in your choices. So, you’re having twins? A bit anxious? Get more data.
The one caveat to this recommendation is that for some people the hormones of pregnancy can trigger a great deal of anxiety. I’ve spent my life reaching for books in the search of “more data.” However, when I was pregnant each book just ratcheted up my anxiety even higher. I had to turn over all the reading and research and planning and baby gear buying to my family. If this sounds like you, then hand this book over to your partner and wait until after the babies are born to read it. There will be stresses after the babies are born too but the hormones will settle down and you’ll get your brain back.
So, what’s useful to know if you’re pregnant with twins? One of the best resources for support and information is a local mother’s club for multiples. Ask friends with twins, doctors, or do a web search to find one in your area. Many offer meetings for expectant parents and provide fantastic in person and on-line support.
The group I belong to: has meetings for expectant and new parents, a bed rest support team, arranges home cooked meal delivery to new parents, runs a volunteer buddy system, hosts multiple annual events for parents and kids, arranges twice annual sales of members used equipment, supports numerous needy families of multiples thru donations and gifts, and maintains an active on-line support forum where parents can get ideas, advice, and concrete help from other parents who’ve been thru it all. It was my life blood thru my first year of parenting twins. I highly recommend anyone expecting multiples to find a group and sign up for a membership. You’ll gain access to much wisdom and support. You can start your search at Multiples of America: http://www.multiplesofamerica.org
In your early medical check-ups, you may be surprised to realize that twins are automatically considered a high-risk pregnancy. There are particular issues along the way and you’ll likely wind up with more monitoring than for a singleton pregnancy. In addition, many women are surprised by just how exhausted they feel while gestating twins especially in the later months. If you have been pregnant before, it can be helpful to realize that this pregnancy may be different. Some women find they are able to work well into the 3rd trimester, but others find they need to either reduce their work hours or stop entirely.
A good friend of mine who was having twins wound up with hyperemesis and a dilating cervix. She was on bedrest and in-home uterine monitoring for many months. Her job was flexible and she was able to work from home but many jobs don’t have that option. The point is that you may need to be responsive to your body’s unexpected demands during this time. All your work and state family-leave benefits, if you have any, may be used up beforethe babies even arrive. After delivery, many twins come home with you. But others need weeks or months of NICU time. This can become another enormously stressful time as you struggle with both work conflicts and the emotional turmoil and logistical challenges of preemie care.
I know this sounds really scary. But realize too that NONE of these things may come to pass. I was a 45 year old fertility treatment patient going thru a known high risk first pregnancy. It wasn’t easy for me but some people cruise thru without that hard a time.
During your pregnancy, I encourage you to listen to your body. If you feel good then keep going. If you don’t then slow down. Seriously consider some pool walking especially later in your pregnancy. You will feel a tremendous relief when that water supports those big babies you’re growing and your back will thank you! Eat as well as you can but don’t beat yourself up if eating is hard. The babies will take what they need from you. Really, they will! I also encourage you to ask your doctor for help if you’re persistently having a lot of trouble eating. They can help with nausea and they can help with constipation…which can be a major cause of nausea and lack of appetite.
Do take your multi vitamin and folic acid. Those are important. Do drink lots of water. Really. Drink lots of water. Sip it all day long. If your tired, rest. Your body is working amazingly hard to grow two new little people, and you may find you need to cut back on many activities. If you feel great then have fun! If you don’t feel good then focus on one hour at a time. Think, “what will I do for the next hour.” Then do the next hour, and the next hour. If you try to look at the months extending ahead when you don’t feel good you’ll get overwhelmed. So, focus on an hour at a time.
Every twin advice book will tell you to line up help in advance. This is very good advice. Personally, I didn’t really know how to do this. My husband was home for 2 weeks. My mom lives nearby and came over daily to help. This wasn’t nearly enough. After 10 days of severe sleep deprivation we realized that 3 adults to 2 newborns was still not a workable ratio. The nighttime needs are especially exhausting. You are going to need help.
One friend with twins lined up the grandparents. One set came right away and stayed for the first 3mns and then the next set came and stayed for the next 3mns. My friend took 6 months off work and juggled the nights with her husband. Then every day 2 fresh grandparents arrived and stayed all day to help. Between the two sets of grandparents, there was one day when the family would have no helpers. My friend was very nervous about how to manage that one day without help. At the time, I was pre-twins and didn’t really understand her anxiety. Now I do. The ratio of 2 newborns to 2 parents is not normal.
There are all kinds of ways to get help. It could be family or a mother’s helper or a nanny. Where I lived night nannies where charging $25-35 per hour. (I’m sure it’s more now!) This quickly adds up to a lot of money! We thought we could manage without one. We were wrong. By day 10 we were frantically searching contacts and websites for someone to help at night. You may well need help at night for several months. We ran up debt. We could only manage a night nanny 3 nights a week. We’d wait in desperate anticipation for her arrival. Then we’d pass off the babies as fast as possible so we could dive into bed. Your body needs consolidated sleep. When you get only an hour or two at a time for night after night you’ll find yourself more than a bit frayed. Figure out some night-time help before the babies arrive if possible.
You’re probably going to need some daytime help too. The early days are an intense, nervous juggling act between two newborns. There will be a million and one diaper changes, feedings, burpings, spit-ups, clean ups, soothings, and clothing changes…for baby number one…immediately followed by the same for baby number two…and repeat. Generally speaking, baby number two will NOT be waiting patiently for their turn!
This type of work is hugely challenging if you are fresh, showered and rested. If you are none of those things, you’ll find the world starting to blur as it slips out of control. You’ll be frantically trying to swim while barely keeping a nostril above the water. Having a nice fresh adult show up to help everyday will be really, REALLY helpful.
You notice I didn’t mention any time for doing laundry. The constant spit ups and diaper leaks will generate TONS of laundry for both babies and adults. Oh, no time for cleaning the house either. Dirty dishes? Getting groceries? If you can line up family and friends to come clean your house once a week, do it. If you can hire a house cleaner to come every 2 weeks, do it. Once a month, do it. Remember that all of these expenses are not forever. Remember too, that the more help you have in place the better. If there’s no help then let all the housework go. It’s good practice anyway. The mess goes on for a long, long, loooong time and you might as well get accustomed to a higher level of dirt.
You will not be able to keep your home in anything like the state you managed with only adults in the house. It’s one thing to clean up after yourself. It’s another to negotiate arrangements with a partner to clean up after themselves. But once you add a couple of kids to the deal…well the whole house of cards kinda caves in!
Let’s review a few must read books for the early days. “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” by Harvey Karp, MD is definitely on the “must read” list. This book will help you understand how to effectively sooth the fussiest of babies. It will also give you a good sense of how your baby’s brain is different and changing over the first year of life. It’s extremely well done and is also available on CD so you can watch swaddling techniques.
I also recommend you practice swaddling your baby before you leave the hospital. The nurses will walk you thru it again and again if you ask. When done well this can be very comforting to a young baby. We were so happy with this technique that when the kids outgrew the smaller blankets, I went to the fabric store to buy large pieces of cloth for jumbo swaddles.
In your babies’ first year you will become obsessed with sleep. Yours and theirs. The better they sleep the more you sleep. It’s a simple equation that is somehow difficult to actually balance. If you’re lucky you’ll get at least one “good sleeper.” If you get 2 good sleepers then consider yourself among the blessed. Most of us get at least one baby that requires intensive effort at night. We were frantic with the need to get our kids to sleep in some kind of remotely consolidated way.
There are numerous books written on this subject. In my babies, early months, I read everything I could get my hands on. Finally, my sister-in-law sent us a book that really helped. I highly recommend, “The Sleep Easy Solution” byWaldburger and Spivack. The information in the book is organized in a very useful manner, and their approach is very respectful of the emotional and sleep needs of both child and parent. If you need to sleep train it will give you clear, step-by-step instructions. It will help you to help your child be ready for sleep training. It will also walk you thru solutions to various obstacles like how to wean off nighttime feedings. If you can, read this book before your babies arrive then you may be able to set yourself up for an easier process. But regardless of your kids ages you’ll find real practical help in “The Sleep Easy Solution.” You’ll also find more on help in my chapter titled, “Sleeping Babies.”
Before your babies are born, it can be very useful to do some pre-arrival prep work to lighten the everyday work of the first few months. If you have space, it is well worth it to invest in a small extra freezer. We stocked ours with quiche from whole foods, an assortment of organic frozen meals, frozen fruit for smoothies and such. You can pull out a meal for one or a quiche to last a week of lunches. You might also practice ordering groceries delivered from a local store. If you do this before the babies come you may be able to set up a favorites list and get comfortable with the ins and outs of your local service. Stock up on all your basics like toilet paper, tissue, coffee, etc. Order your first set of diapers delivered to your door so that re orders are easy. Do it now so you don’t need to figure it all out while you’re trying to tandem breast feed squirmy little puppies. I know some moms even set up calendars where friends could sign up for helper duties or meal deliveries.
The first few months with twins are probably going to feel pretty intense. Just keep breathing thru it. The crazy days pass. You’ll earn your stripes. And you’ll move on to new crazy parenting stuff and more stripes to earn. You got this…at least as well as any of us have ever “got” the first months of parenting…which is to say crawling thru the mud, under the barbed wire, hoping the rain will stop and the finish line will show up!
Remember, No Parent is an Island!