Bringing up twins
Written by Deborah Ashin
twins, one plus one does not equal two -- it's a whole lot more work,"
says Brian Sherwood, the father of 10-month-old boy/girl twins.
Sherwood thought he would know what to expect since his two other
children from a previous marriage were just 19 months apart. "I didn't
have a clue," he says with a laugh.
Bringing home two tiny twin babies is just the beginning of a remarkable, often overwhelming and always surprising adventure. Every stage of raising twins has its own set of delights and dilemmas: Just when you've mastered the logistics of juggling two newborns, you're confronted with two toddlers who, together, can create more than double the mischief. Snuggling with two babies is pure heaven but imagine synchronized episodes of "terrible 2’s" temper tantrums.
Most parents of twins, however, remember the first year as a blur that swings between sheer contentment and the Twilight Zone. For Sherwood and his wife, Kayla Joy, the trick to survival has been keeping the twins -- Michael and Serena -- on the same schedule, otherwise parents will be up 24 hours. His other advice: Get help, whether it's family, friends or a paid doula.
"You can't do this alone -- it's so overwhelming and everyone needs a break, even if it's just half an hour to take a power nap," he says. "And don't turn anyone down if they offer to bring a meal or help."
Sherwood's other saving grace has been a twin fathers' support group that he started with a dozen men he met during a series of "Expecting Multiples Classes" at the University of Washington's Medical Center. The dads meet once a month and communicate via email, often after midnight feedings. "It's been a great network to help each other out," he says. The men not only share parenting tips and their concerns but also have a place to vent about the lack of sleep and exhaustion.
Maggie Tai Tucker, whose boy/girl twins, Robert and Emily, are now 14 months old, was not prepared for the physical work of managing twin infants: double the lifts and changes and wrestling with two car seats. This was especially difficult for Tucker because she not only had to recuperate from a Caesarian section but also had back pain from disk tears, the result of carrying the twins.
For Maggie and her husband, James Gwertzman, sleep deprivation also was a major issue. "I had no concept of how stupid you get or how difficult it is to cope with no sleep. I didn't feel it was safe to drive a car," she says. This was confirmed when someone in her twins group totaled her car because she was so tired.
"Nothing can prepare you for the sheer exhaustion... you can't stock up on sleep but you can do a few things to help," she says. One of the Tucker's best solutions was for each parent to take a baby and sleep in different rooms. This reduced nighttime wake-ups in half, made possible because she pumped and her husband could give one baby a bottle.
The Seattle couple has expanded their one-on-one concept to occasional weekends. Recently, James took son Robert to visit friends in Port Orchard while Maggie and Emily stayed home. Not only does each child get undivided attention, but Tucker -- who is attending the University of Washington part time to earn a graduate degree in occupational therapy -- said it's lovely for parents to spend concentrated time with just one child.
Tucker encourages parents of twins or multiples to actively solicit help from people who want to lend a hand but don't know what to do. Friends would pick up items for her on their regular visits to Costco, the pet store and the local market because bringing two babies on errands was such a major undertaking early on.
It's also helpful for expecting parents of twins to develop a strategy for dinner before the twins arrive. Tucker laments it took her so long to discover a company that prepares and freezes a month's worth of delicious meals. "The first few months, we subsisted on Chinese take-out and pizza... now, when my husband comes home from work, we decide on something and five minutes later have a nice healthy meal," she says.
It's important for parents expecting twins to have a realistic idea of what they will encounter, she adds. "People have a hard time being honest about early motherhood -- it's simply not true that every moment is a scene of bliss. That is especially true when you have multiples.
"Having twins is lot more work early on but it gets easier," she says. Her biggest twin surprise is the quality of playfulness of having two -- "I wasn't prepared for how much fun they would be together!"
Walking into Sonia Manhas' home in Issaquah is not the chaotic mess one might assume would exist with 3-month-old twins Jaya and Ajay and their preschool-age sister, Tara. Sonia attributes the relative calm to advance planning and the good fortune of having a full-time nanny as well as nearby family. Since Sonia and her husband, Subeer, already knew about the challenges of just one baby, they wanted to be prepared to welcome twins.
Sonia's strategy was to be as organized as possible for the twins' arrival. Knowing that bed rest or premature birth were possibilities, she had everything -- from her suitcase for the hospital to the nursery -- ready at six months. "I wanted to avoid the panic of not being set up," she explains. "Staying ahead of the game is the trick with multiples. Twins are a juggling act but good organization can make the transition fairly smooth." Sonia, a former Microsoft employee, suggests trying to anticipate how things in the house will flow when the babies come home.
Accepting outside help has been one of Sonia's major adjustments. With her first baby, she was able to bond and do everything herself; now, with the twins, she tries not to feel guilty that she can't provide each baby with the same one-on-one attention. "You have to adjust to a different type of parenting and know you're a good mom, even if you can't be available 24 hours a day," she says.
Sheryl Rasmussen, coordinator of the University of Washington's "Expecting Multiples Classes," confirms that the first three months with newborn twins are extremely difficult. " It's impossible for people to anticipate the chaos or what it's truly like to be totally sleep deprived," she says.
According to Rasmussen, it's not just having two babies but dealing with infants who typically are born four weeks early. Pre-term babies are less developed, which can make breastfeeding especially challenging because they don't have good latching or the ability to easily suck, swallow and breathe. However, by the fourth month, Rasmussen reports that most babies have physically caught up and parents have settled into a routine.
Looking back, parents of twins often wish they could have appreciated the moment instead of just trying to get through each day. "I wish I had been more relaxed and confident when Beth and Kate were younger, but the physical challenge of caring for two babies or toddlers was often overwhelming," reflects Elaine Bowers, the mother of eighth-grade twin girls. "Parents of twins never experience the languid moment of just tenderly focusing on an infant -- there's always someone waiting in the wings to be changed or fed," the Seattle mother recalls.
In retrospect, Bowers wishes she and her husband had schedule more one-on-one time with each daughter when they were younger. "It would have been meaningful to us as well as to the girls," she says.
If anyone can describe the difference between having twins and singletons it's Linda Stevens of Mill Creek. Her brood of eight children includes two sets of twins: 10-year-old sister/brother combo Alyssa and Zachary and 8-year-old brothers Braeden and Devin. "Twins are definitely a different challenge, especially when they're infants and need so much one-in-one care," she says.
Managing two crawling babies or trying to catch two toddlers running in opposite directions is exhausting. And baby-proofing a house for twins requires creative thinking because when twins work together, they often help each other get into serious mischief. But once twins enter elementary school, Stevens says their issues tend to be defined more by their individual personalities and interests than in their twinship.
"It's important to recognize twins as individuals and to celebrate their individual strengths. It's easy for people to lump them together, especially they're the same sex," Steven says. She also emphasizes, however, that there's nothing wrong with having twins do things together if it makes sense. "Flexibility is key," she says, adding that one-on-one time seems especially important for twins.
Because her 10-year-old old boy/girl twins have classic boy/girl interests, Stevens says her daughter is closer to her sisters than to her twin brother. Describing her 8-year-old boys as a handful, Stevens believes being twins is a catalyst for their shenanigans. She also notices there's more built-in competition with twins than in singletons.
When one excels -- whether it's a school project or just a video game -- there's more tension than among non-twin siblings. And, she adds, "Twins can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies."
For Carol Solberg, becoming the mother of twin boys was doubly meaningful because she is a twin. Having a twin brother gives this Edmonds mom a unique perspective about how to treat her 13-year-old twin sons, Sten and Kjell.
"Being a twin makes you more tuned in to the pitfalls of raising twins, especially being compared all the time or grouped as a single unit," she says. She allowed the grandmas to dress the twins alike until the boys were a year old but then she says, "I cut them off." Today, the teenage boys often share clothes but usually put them together differently.
Her goal has been to allow the boys to be individuals. "It's important to celebrate their differences and individual styles," she explains. Solberg's philosophy is that while the boys don't always have to be together, they can't be mean to each other. Fortunately, she says, they usually choose to hang out together and get along most of the time. Sharing a room was always difficult because the boys are like Felix and Oscar in "The Odd Couple."
Solberg was very sensitive to twin issues situations, such as birthday parties. If her sons want different themes, she gets two cakes and she's always offered to have separate parties if this is what they choose. "Growing up, I hated sharing birthday parties . . . it never occurred to me then that my brother probably didn't want girls at his party any more than I wanted boys," she says.
Although Solberg says she and her brother were never especially close, she acknowledges that the joy of being a twin is "having someone in your life who knows you in a different way than friends or spouses or even other siblings."
Veteran twin parents all agree that the first year with twins is exhausting, overwhelming and at times, just seems like an endless marathon of changing diapers and midnight feedings. Stephanie Scott, a Mercer Island mother whose twins are now in high school, says, "Everyone always told me it would go fast, and it seems like yesterday that Samantha and Andrew were in kindergarten. I think with twins, it goes doubly fast because they're both at the same stage."
Although parents of twins can't always savor the moment, Scott encourages them to take delight in and appreciate those moments that are unique to twins. She says, "Only a mother of twins knows the pure joy of cradling two sleeping babies."
Deborah Ashin is a marketing consultant, freelance writer and mother of 14-year-old twins.
The first few months with twins can be overwhelming. Here's what parents of twins say helped them survive:
- Be ready six months in advance because premature birth is higher with twins.
- Join a twins group before the babies are born, if only for access to the Web site and sales (great place to get double for half the cost); some clubs will loan preemie clothes and diapers.
- Buy car seats for caregivers or family to avoid moving back and forth.
- In a two-story house, have changing stations upstairs and downstairs.
- If you can afford it, hire a postpartum doula for the first week instead of trying to rely on family members. She can help set up systems to manage twin logistics. (See below.)
- Keep a notebook of which baby got fed and when.
- Let your friends help!
Fraternal or identical?
Fraternal twins are the result of separate eggs becoming fertilized, resulting in two completely distinct pregnancies in the womb at the same time. Basically, they are siblings born at the same time. Boy/girl twins are always fraternal. 70 percent of twins are fraternal.
Identical twins occur when a single conception splits into two, usually between the fourth and twelfth day after conception, when the fertilized egg is becoming implanted in the womb. Similarity in looks does not always indicate that twins are identical; only a DNA test can determine if twins are truly identical. 30 percent of twins are identical.
Twin tips from the NW Association of Multiples
- Use unlike sounding names.
- Avoid constantly dressing them alike.
- Be sure to take pictures of them individually.
- Keep separate baby books and/or scrapbooks.
- Refer to them by name and encourage others to.
- Spend time alone with each twin.
- Do not leave them to play alone with each other all the time.
- Promote interaction with others their age.
- Always give separate cards and gifts, and make sure they have separate birthday cakes.
- Allow individual friendships to develop.
- Avoid referring to their birth order -- don't label one the "older" and one the "younger" twin.
Multiple birth resources
- Expecting Multiples Classes, University of Washington
A series of five classes covering pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding, newborn care and parenting tips. Open to anyone expecting twins. Call 206-598-4003 to register.
- Eastside Mothers of Multiples
- Northwest Association of Mothers of Twins Clubs
- North Seattle Families of Multiples (Seattle, Shoreline, Lynnwood) 206-297-2628.
- National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, 800-243-2276.
- When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads: A Complete Resource, By Dr. Barbara Luke and Tamara Eberlein, HarperCollins Books. Considered the "bible" for parents of multiples
- Mothers of Twins Clubs Notebook, Published by National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (MOTC).
- Milestones: Information for families expecting multiples (Seven issues, each timed to arrive at the beginning of a new stage of pregnancy).
- Twins Magazine, Published six times a year.
Doula referrals a phone call away
The Northwest Association of Postpartum Support (NAPS) provides a
free telephone referral service connecting families with postpartum
doulas. All certified NAPS doulas are professionally trained in postpartum care, are certified in infant/child CPR and first aid, and have current, clean police background checks.
A postpartum doula provides individually tailored emotional and practical in-home support. Services vary from family to family but often include:
- Breastfeeding/bottlefeeding support and assistance.
- Suggestions and assistance with mother's birth recovery.
- Advice on infant and parent sleep patterns.
- Guidance on newborn care.
- Recognizing and responding to postpartum mood disorders.
- Light housekeeping, laundry and meal preparation.
- Sibling and pet care.
Call the referral line at 206-956-1955 to leave your name, phone number and the best time to reach you. A NAPS representative will return your call to help assess your needs. NAPS will provide you with names of available doulas to contact. It is then up to you to contact, interview and hire your doula. For more information, visit the NAPS website.
Originally published in the May, 2005 print edition of ParentMap.