Wednesday, January 22, 2014
You Can't Scare Me. I Have Twins.
Having survived the first 5 years with twins, I am often asked for advice by expectant mothers of twins. Here's my best advice for expectant mothers of twins. Parenting is such a personal thing and there are so many ways to do it. This is what worked for me and my family. I have no problem with other Moms doing something totally different. I'm ok with other people disagreeing with my methods. Just offering this to anyone who wants it. Take what you like, leave what you don't:
Congratulations! It's not going to be a piece of cake but having twins is really fun. So many sweet/precious experiences are in your future that only come with twins. Here are my thoughts for you. I hope it helps. I read a lot of books on twins but there wasn’t one that stuck out to me. I learned many valuable things from all of them. I suggest checking out whatever you can find from the library. Following is everything I could think of that I learned from my experience. Feel free to keep asking me questions via comments.
1. Take a deep breath and accept that yes, twins will turn your life upside down for a while but it's totally doable and you will love it. If you prepare mentally/emotionally to have it kind of dominate your life for a little while, that's half the battle. I have a friend with triplets who said that it got dramatically easier every 6 months. She was so right. Try to think in terms of how to enjoy and survive the first 6 months for now and know that every 6 months things will get dramatically easier. I think by the time my twins were 3, it really wasn't much different than just having multiple children of different ages. If you have other children, that is going to be a real help in so many ways. Everyone I know with twins has some circumstance that made their situation even more complicated in the beginning and they all survived wonderfully. For example, my twins were born at 25 weeks in another state and were in the NICU for 3 months. We could hardly take them anywhere for the first 8 months. Then, when they were 10 months old, I got sick went to the hospital for 5 weeks and had brain surgery. We are all totally fine now and we have many happy memories from that first year despite the challenges. A friend of mine had her twins when her other 3 children were 5, 4, and 2. She had 5 kids 5 and under for that first year. Her twins are 1.5 now and she's doing great. Don't worry if you are in a similar situation. You can totally manage it. Really.
2. Start thinking now about how much you can clear from your schedule for the first 6-12 months after they are born. You might need to start this a month or two before they are born. Twins tend to come early and there is a good chance you'll go on bed rest. In the beginning everything is so much easier at home. I'm not saying you have to become a hermit. Going out can be really fun but trying to get places on time and do things that aren't baby friendly will be tough that first year and limiting it as much as possible will make life simpler for you. If you have lessons or activities your other children need to get to, consider trading rides for them for watching other kids at your house. Maybe not when your twins are newborns, but as soon as they are on some kind of schedule, watching other kids at your house could be a lot easier than piling everyone in the car to drive someone somewhere. As often as possible, plan outings when your husband can go with you. Consider doing most errands on your own when your husband can watch the kids.
3. Get an Amazon.com Prime membership. I have learned that Amazon will ship you almost anything and most of it for a really great price. A Prime membership is I think $75/year and gets you free 2-day shipping on most of what they sell. I bought/still buy most of my toiletries, laundry detergent, diapers, presents for bday parties, baby showers, Christmas, office and school supplies etc. on Amazon. I homeschool my kids and teach classes in a co-op and every week I get most of my supplies for class from Amazon too. Things you use regularly like diapers you can set up a "subscription" for and they will come every month or every other month or whatever frequency you like without you having to do anything. You save money on subscriptions too. It's called the subscribe-and-save program. Seriously, Amazon has been one of my hugest secret weapons. It has eliminated so many errands and shopping trips from my schedule and it saves me money.
4. Start preparing and storing freezer meals. If you don’t have a large extra freezer, consider getting one. In the beginning, especially the first month, you will spend almost all your time feeding and caring for your newborns. I’m certain you will have plenty of people bringing you meals but when that ends, it is nice if you have the means to, easily, and healthily feed your family. It always makes me feel happier and like a good wife/mother when I can feed my family healthy, yummy food. Freezer Meals are the best way I know how to do this. Most of the things you already make can probably be made into freezer meals. Some things can be pre-cooked then frozen in gallon Ziplocs to be reheated in a crockpock after defrosting in the fridge for 24 hours, some can be assembled and ready-to-bake in a disposable foil container after defrosting for 24 hours. Search the web for freezer meals – tons of ideas out there. You’ll get lots of great recipes from friends too if you start asking. If you can have a month’s worth of meals ready to go in your freezer before your twins are born, that will be a huge help to you. It’ll take practice to remember to defrost them a day ahead of time in the fridge so they are ready to reheat or bake but this takes 5 minutes and it’s not a hard habit to get into. Also consider having 1 night a week when your husband cooks dinner and 1 night when you get Subway, takeout, already roasted chicken from the grocery store or something else like that instead of cooking. If you know you can plan on those 2 nights during the week, it will ease some stress and give you a little break 2 nights/week.
5. As quickly as possible get the babies on a schedule. I don’t know what your experience with other children as babies has been like but I know a lot of people struggle with the idea of getting a baby on a schedule. With twins, it isn’t an option to not have them on one. Hospitals are experts at this. You will be an expert on it soon:). Basically you need to feed them, play with them, put them to sleep, let them sleep, and change their diapers every 3-4 hours. My favorite book for helping me get my babies on a schedule is The Baby Whisperer. But don’t be afraid to disagree with her or ignore anything that doesn’t feel right for you. I didn’t like her twin schedule personally but I loved what she taught me about sleep training. Another book I’ve liked is The Happiest Baby on the Block. Read them now while you can. You won't have time or mental capacity after your babies are born.
Depending on whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, that will significantly influence your schedule. I breastfed my twins for the first 10 months. You have to decide first if you want to have your twins on the same schedule or slightly staggered. There are pros and cons to both. If you want them on the same schedule, I recommend using Podee Bottles for one twin every feeding, switching who has the Podee and who has you every feeding. Here’s a picture. A Podee bottle allows an infant to kinda feed themselves. You put them in their car seat, put the bottle between their legs and the bottle nipple is kinda like a pacifier with a straw connecting it to the bottle. You can put the nipple in their mouth and they suck on it. Whenever it falls out, you put it back in their mouth, just like a paci – very easy. This allows you to give most of your attention to one twin every feeding. Initially I nursed my twins one-at-a-time, back-to-back. That meant I was feeding them 16 hours a day in the beginning. My situation was complicated because I adopted my twins and I was using an SNS system to supplement. Even if you fed yours one-at-a-time, back to back it wouldn’t take that much time. After 3 months I switched to tandem nursing. Some Moms really love tandem nursing. We had some sweet moments with this but most of the time it was a 3-way wrestling match and after 3 months, my nipples were so sore I had to stop. You might be able to make it work – you probably won’t be contending with the SNS. It does cut feeding time in half and allows your babies to be on the same schedule so you get more time when they sleep. When my babies were 6 months old, I discovered Podee bottles and started using them. It allowed me to keep them on the same schedule, keep feedings to 6 hours a day instead of 12, and feeding one twin at a time allowed me to really bond with the one I was feeding and have a pleasant nursing experience. I switched who I fed vs. who got the Podee every feeding so they both got half their feedings with my undivided attention every day.
For sleeping, I highly recommend swaddle blankets like these.
Babies sleep so much better all swaddled up, even in summer, and they can’t unwrap these blankets. Twins often do better sleeping next to each other in the same bed but if they aren’t swaddled good, they can disturb each other. They eventually become immune to each other’s noises and crying. My twins shared a room till they were 5 and very rarely woke each other up, even when one was crying really loudly. They learned to tune each other out.
I don’t know what your experience with sleep training babies is but it is critical with twins. It just isn’t possible to rock-to-sleep or hold two babies while they sleep at once. One option that could work if sleep training seems too daunting is get two swings and let them fall asleep in there. I have a friend whose first baby slept in a swing for the first 6 months. Totally doable.
6. Say yes to any and all offers of help. People are probably so excited for you and most people recognize what an overwhelming thing having twins is. They will offer you lots of help. Say yes. You will need it. You will pay it forward in the future. Whatever they offer to do for you, if it seems helpful, say yes. If they give a vague offer or ask what they can do, tell them you can use meals, rides for your older kids, or a couple hours to do errands or take a nap. Ask anyone who offers to bring a meal to you to bring it in disposable containers – you won’t have time to wash, keep track of, and return people’s dishes and pans.
7. Figure out your strategy for going out with all your kids. You need to figure out your diaper bag and your stroller/carrier plan. I recommend a backpack for your diaper bag. It holds so much more than a regular diaper bag and you need double the space with twins (two changes of clothes, double the diapers, two blankets, burb cloths, bottle, snacks etc.). Also it allows you to have both your hands free. My twins are 5 and I’m still using my backpack whenever I go out with my kids. You’ll need to decide how you want to convey your babies once out of the car. In the beginning a double stroller that holds two carseats is very convenient. Makes getting the babies in and out of the car quick and easy. But, the stroller is enormous and unwieldy. It took up almost my whole trunk and forget keeping it in the house. And you can’t use it for grocery shopping, Costco, or other shopping trips where you need a lot of space in a shopping cart. Even if you limit your errand outings with kids, there will be times you need to take everyone to the store. When my twins were about a year old I discovered the Boba Carrier. If I were to do it all over again, I’d use a Boba and a regular stroller right from the beginning. With the Boba I could wear one twin and put the other in a single stroller or shopping cart. So much easier to get around. If you already have a stroller you wouldn’t have to buy a new stroller. If you have a toddler in addition to your coming twins, a Sit and Stand stroller plus a Boba could work really well for you. You could wear one infant, put the other in their carseat in the stroller and have your toddler sit or stand in the stroller too. When you go to the grocery store or somewhere with a cart, you wear one infant and the other can go in the shopping cart. A lot of places have carts that will hold both your infant and a toddler. Boba's are expensive yes, but worth every penny. If you aren’t buying a new stroller it makes it easier to afford one of these. Such a lovely way to carry an infant and I can still fit my twins (one at a time) in my Boba now. Obviously a 5-year-old can walk on their own so I don’t use it anymore. But I did regularly until they were about 4. We actually had two so my husband and I could carry them both when we all went out. It’s nice not to deal with a stroller in some settings like a busy city or an event with large crowds. You can buy one from amazon here and from the boba website here.
8. Plan now for how to refill your mental/emotional tank every week. This is going to be an amazing and wonderful experience. But, it will test your limits and take a lot out of you. If you can figure out a plan for regular dates with your husband and regular times for you to run errands or take a nap or do something else for yourself, you can avoid breakdowns and running yourself ragged. For dates, I recommend securing a babysitter for a regular weekly evening. For you time, you could schedule an evening or time on Saturdays when your husband will watch the kids so you can do something for you. You could also do a babysitting trade with a friend or pay a babysitter once/week so you can have you time. My twins were on a pretty good schedule with 3 naps a day by the time they were 4 months old. By the time they were a year old, my twins took one 3 hour nap, every day. My oldest daughter was really good at staying quietly in her room during nap-time. Having nap-time every day, all to myself, was my saving grace. I couldn’t go anywhere but I could nap, read, get stuff done or whatever I needed and it kept me sane. When my twins outgrew their naps at age 4, I started to lose it. That’s when I started paying a babysitter to watch them one afternoon a week. Still doing it. The best way I know of to be a great wife and mother is to take care of my basic needs. When I do that, I have a lot more to give my family.
9. Get whatever support you need. It will be important for you to have other women you can talk to as you go through this experience. Some women really love being part of a Moms-of-Multiples group. They are everywhere. For me talking to my sisters and friends on the phone worked well. Make sure you have some women you can vent to, problem solve with, and get emotional support from. I have struggled with both anxiety and depression in the last several years. I have found a wonderful counselor who has helped me manage both really well. If you need help from a professional, get it.
10. Along with simplifying your schedule, put any major projects on hold for 6-12 months. If at all possible, don’t try to potty train anyone, move, start a new exercise routine, or make any major changes to your life until your twins are 6-12 months old. This might not be possible but do what you can to limit additional stress. You’ll be able to handle whatever you have to but simplify what you can. The one exception is my next point.
11. If you have other children, start now to prep them to help with work. My oldest was 5 when my twins were born. She was and remains a HUGE help to me. I don’t know what you and your kids are used to now so forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir. But, kids are capable of a lot of work and you will need all hands on deck. Even a 2 yr old can help with some work. If I were you, I’d focus a lot of energy now and until the twins are born on helping your kids learn to do chores and get used to a schedule of personal chores and family work so that when the babies arrive, things will keep humming along. Depending on how many kids you have, you may be able to teach your kids to do the majority of the basic family work so that you are free to take care of the twins. I’d focus on helping them learn to do their personal chores (make beds, clean their rooms, get dressed, put clothes away, brush teeth etc.); learn to help with laundry (sorting, washing, and folding); dishes /kitchen (loading and unloading the dishwasher, clearing the table, rinsing dishes, washing tables, and counters, sweeping or swiffering the floor); and bathroom (the mirror, sink, toilet, bathtub, and floor). I use baking soda to clean my bathtub so it’s not toxic for a child to clean. I do recommend gloves so their hands don’t get scratched. It would also be nice if they knew how to do some basic food prep like microwave instant oatmeal, make PBJ sandwiches, peel and section Clementines or bananas, etc. There may be meals when you need to rely on their ability to prep food for everyone.
12. Come to terms with the idea that someone will have to cry often. With twins it is impossible to see to all of their needs immediately. Very often, one twin will be crying while you are helping the other one. If you have other children, even more likely. This is not a problem. No baby or child ever died of crying. All twins experience this and I don’t know of any of them suffering lasting damage because of it. I actually find that twins and triplets seem to have a little more patience than other children because they are used to waiting their turn for Mom's attention. If you already have other children, you probably already get this idea.
13. Get Ready for lots of comments and questions. I don’t know what it is but when people hear about or see your twins, a lot of them are going to start asking all sorts of bizarre questions and making strange comments. Learn to laugh at it and respond appropriately. You don’t owe anyone explanations and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your situation. This video is hilarious and so true to my experience. I’ve had almost all of these things asked of me/said to me. I get even more fun stuff because my kids were all adopted and my twins are African-American while me, my husband, and my oldest are all Caucasian.
14. When at your wits end, just hang on. I’m not going to lie, there were a few moments in that first year when I wasn’t sure how I’d make it another hour, let alone another day, week, or month. But they were moments. They passed. When you feel like you are at your wits end, just hang on by your fingernails. It will get better. You will sleep again. You will feel human again. You will feel really happy and wonderful again. All you have to do is keep you and your children alive, fed, maybe dressed. Everything else is a bonus.
15. Enjoy this unique and precious experience. As a mother of twins you will get to experience some amazing things very few other people do. Most twins have an amazing bond. I remember seeing my twins asleep in the same crib with one of their heads on the other’s tummy and arms wrapped around each other. This still happens on occasion - on vacation last summer they fell asleep in a hotel bed wrapped up together. My little girl is brave and bold. My son is cautious and shy. My twins always have each other in almost any new situation. It is so cute to see them holding hands when they go into any new situation together. They always prefer having the other one with them – they are each other’s security blankets. I’ll always remember how cute it was when they started crawling, watching two little bums wiggling down the hallway side-by-side. I’ll never forget when they both started learning to say the work “fork” and practicing at the dinner table. With twins the cuteness is more than doubled, it is exponential. Dressing them is sooooo fun. It might be my favorite hobby. It is really nice to have two babies to go around. My oldest was so excited to finally have siblings. When they came home from the hospital, she told me, “Mom, you get the boy, and I get the girl.” When grandparents, aunts, and uncles, are around, it’s nice to have two babies to pass around. There will always be people dying to hold your babies. If you feel comfortable, let them. I love being a Mom and there is nothing like the feeling of having both my twins in my arms at the same time. It is getting difficult to fit them both in my lap now but I so loved it while they were little. As they get older it is so nice that they always have a playmate. Now that my twins are 5, they really do need less of my attention than they would if there were only 1 of them. They fight like any siblings but they also play really well together.
Congratulations! I’m so happy for you. This is going to be a wonderful experience. It’s normal to be worried but you are in for some great times. Please do follow up with any questions you have.