They say the first year after becoming a parent is the hardest. Of that, the first three months are exhausting, while the first 6 weeks are just a blur. Times that by two for twins, three for triplets, and so on.
You may have heard of the Martins, who are parents of twins and applied to get double the parental leave benefits under Employment Insurance. “The Federal Court ruled Thursday that the Employment Insurance Commission made “no reviewable error” in denying the parents of twins double parental leave time. Christian Martin and Paula Critchley say they will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.”
Controversy aside, what is it *really* like to have newborn multiples?
We were very lucky when Little Mister & Little Missy were born. We have family and friends in town who all offered to help, either by coming over and taking over the kitchen, babysitting the twins while I took a nap, bringing food and groceries or giving us phone support. We were also lucky in that our employers gave us great benefits while on maternity & parental leave. Considering I’d paid into Employment Insurance (EI) for over 10 years, it was my turn to get some of the benefits back when our twins were born.
The Pregnancy & Birth
In a previous blog entry “Should Multiple Birth Parents Get More Leave?”, I mentioned how my twin pregnancy was considered high risk which meant:
– weekly OBGYN visits,
– bi-weekly ultrasounds with detailed measurements, and
– bi-weekly fetal heart monitoring and other tests
But the biggest shocker for me was the Doctor’s orders to stop working at 24 weeks gestation. And this was considered a pregnancy with no major complications!
Our twins were born in an operating room attended by 8 medical staff: the OBGYN, the anesthesiologist, the pediatrician, 2 medical residents 2 pediatric nurses (one for each baby), a nursing student and my husband. When you deliver twins in a teaching hospital, it’s a big production!
The First 6 Weeks
What I found the hardest about having two babies at once was I couldn’t be there for both of them all the time. I’d be holding Twin A (Little Mister) while looking longingly at Twin B (Little Missy) and wishing I could hold her too. Sure I could hold them both at the same time but they would still be sharing Mommy. For this reason, bonding with each child when they come as a pair takes much longer.
Back at home from the hospital, we had 3 people (including me) on round-the-clock duty. Having the third person there meant one of us could take a break while the other two were on baby duty and kitchen duty. The babies slept together in a bassinet in our living room while we slept on the pull-out couch as I was recovering from a Caesarean. It was easier to have the kitchen and change table closeby for feedings and changes.
The first few weeks it was round the clock feeding, burping, changing, sanitizing, etc. After we finished one cycle, there was about 30 to 45 minutes before one of them woke up and needed comfort. That’s not taking into account almost weekly growth spurts!
The days that Mr. Mama and myself were on our own, our schedules were all over the place. We couldn’t tell day from night (it was in the wintertime). We would forget to eat until 1pm and by then it would be a tossup between eating something or taking a quick nap. When we did get food ready, it would be a couple of hours before we got around to eating because there was a baby (or two) that needed something.
Diaper changes were an assembly line and easier as a tag team effort. We had (and still have) diaper change stations all over the house: in the living room, in all the washrooms, and in all the bedrooms. I tried using cloth diapers but quickly realized that cloth diapers meant more frequent changes. When you are already changing a total of 20-24 diapers a day, you want to do whatever possible to minimize extra work!
The twins were fed on a combination of mother’s milk and formula. Which for me meant pumping every 4 hours (including in the middle of the night when supply is greatest). We spent our days washing and sterilizing bottles and breast pump accessories after every use. The second most time consuming task was to prepare bottles for the next day. Our kitchen became a laboratory complete with formula cans, measuring cups, bottles, drying rack, bottle warmer, whisk for mixing, kettle for boiling water, Medela pump parts and a microwave sterilizer. The fridge always had 10 bottles of mother’s milk mixed with formula ready to go for feeding time.
After a few weeks, we realized that being downstairs was disturbing their sleep, not to mention ours, and moved our entire operation upstairs. Sometimes they would sleep in our room, sometimes in the nursery. Always together in one crib because they were not rolling over yet. At night we would take the bottle warmer plus a cooler full of ice and milk bottles upstairs so we wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs multiple times through the night.
At the end of the six weeks, Mr. Mama went back to work (and was happy to have the break!). That was about the time my adrenaline rush fizzled out and exhaustion caught up to me. In other words, I finally admitted to myself that I needed rest.
The First Three Months
We still had help throughout the week, usually in the afternoon, but not in time for the daily 10 a.m. double meltdown. There was one morning I’ll never forget. Both babies were blissfully napping next to each other on their kidney pillows. I decided to get a head start on their next meal, and popped one of their bottles in the bottle warmer. Each bottle at the time took approximately 3 minutes to heat up.
Those were the longest 6 minutes of my life.
Little Missy woke up first so I decided to change her diaper so I would only have one diaper to change later while her bottle was warming. Bad idea. She didn’t want to be lying down (I just woke up from a nap Amma! Give me milk!) and screamed so loud that Little Mister woke up and sensing a calamity, started crying too. It sounded like a nursery. I panicked because I was halfway through a diaper change, had only one bottle warmed up and both babies were UPSET. Who gets the first bottle? Usually the louder baby, in the hopes that the other one will calm down.
I ended up giving Little Missy the bottle and nursing Little Mister at the same time. Once Missy was done her bottle, I could then burp her with one hand, lay her back on her inclined pillow, then get up with Mister to retrieve his bottle. There were many times when I nursed both at the same time (there are ways to do that… double football hold, for example).
Every week, we looked back at the days that just passed and said things like “Phew it’s getting better don’t you think?” We had a system for their feeding, and they were showing the beginnings of a pattern. At three months, Little Missy was sleeping most of the night thank God. The Doctor said to wake her up and feed her because she may be starving. But we let her sleep because the times we woke her up for feeding were not pleasant! Ever heard the phrase “never sleep a waking baby”? I truly believe in that! Plus we had our hands full at night-time with Little Mister. He was a gassy, unhappy baby for the first few months until we started him on solids early at 4 months old.
At four months, Mr. Mama and I felt we finally had time to take a breath. We found ourselves casually chatting with a stressed-out grandmother-to-be whose daughter was having twins. For the first time, we were giving advice and saying “Yup, we’ve been through that!”
Spring was approaching so I decided to start exercising again. By exercise, I mean taping (PVR) a daily exercise show on local TV. Little M&M would be changed, fed and snuggled in their bouncy chairs facing each other. I would stand next to them and give them something to look at as I did my stretches. Usually got a smile or giggle for my performance and I was able to get 5 minutes of exercise in before one of them needed something. And when one whimpers, the other baby whimpers in sympathy. After a while I gave up on the daily exercise routine while they were up. And when they were asleep I was either eating a snack or resting myself!
Needless to say I rarely watched TV for the first year I was home with the twins. Same with reading a book as that required my tired eyes to be focused on something when they could be resting.
Having two newborn babies to care for means everything has to be done twice and it has to be done fast. Mr. Mama and I are now super fast and efficient in cleaning, cooking, and organizing. On the downside, we are also fast in eating, moving around, and conversations. We haven’t had a chance to slow down yet and I think it’ll be this way for some time.
Having newborn twins was a crash course in parenting. In between figuring out which bottles and formula our babies preferred to which diaper brand had fewer leaks, we barely had a chance to enjoy snuggling with our newborns and memorizing every inch of their cuteness. I hope this sheds some light on what it’s like to have 2 babies at once. It can all be summed up by saying – there’s no time to be bored!