The journey of multiples is nothing short of amazing – smiles, snuggles and watching those beautiful personalities emerge – but let’s face it, it can be tough going. It is amazing how you forget those early days – for me they were a blur of survival. “One day at a time”, I would tell myself.
I remember my friend turned up unannounced. My friend with no children who always looks amazing, even when she has just been to the gym for two hours. At the time my twins were a couple of months old. I looked terrible. Part of my ‘just needing to get through’ was not to care what I wore or looked like. On this day I was wearing a stained pink robe (that I really do need to get rid of), my hair was everywhere – I hadn’t brushed my teeth or managed to have a shower. It was still pretty warm – I am sure I smelt faintly of body odour (I tell myself faintly). She later told me she left my house thinking, “twins really are hard work.”
In many ways the early days of multiples is the metaphorical winter where if you are anything like me, you bunker on down and just wait for those months where you have enough sleep and energy to face the world. This article is no silver bullet but aims to draw on the advice of those amazing mothers that have gone before us and have survived to tell the tale.
Sleep deprivation and crying can drive you crazy – to stop myself going insane I pictured myself running a marathon. I was so focused on ‘running the race’ – that I would barely let myself look up and see how tough it was. It is only now is in retrospect where I realise how hard it was. Everything was about preserving energy. It was like my body knew I only had a small amount to go around. Things like my appearance, having a social life and leaving the house were put on hold to save that energy for later – later being that 3am feed that could take anything up to two hours to perform, let alone resettling.
My friend Haidee talks about the importance of having realistic expectations. “Before the twins were born, I knew there would be extra challenges associated with getting out of the house with a toddler and twins. After they were born, I had to adjust my expectations down as I came to grips with just how much time it takes to feed, change and settle two babies. Any ‘extra’ time could be spent showering, or sleeping!”
Personally, when I am running – or walking up a steep hill with the double buggy, rather than get overwhelmed with the thought of how far I have to go, I focus on places ahead. ‘Just make it to that house with the lemon tree’. I responded in a similar way to my first year with the twins. Milestones I suppose – six weeks, three months, six months. “Just get through the first year.”
Lousie said that in a similar way she needed to have goals. “Find something that you look forward to and make time to do it every day.” For her that was to have a shower. Other times it was catching up with friends. Haidee said that for her having a shower was the best way to grab a few moments to herself, as well as feel slightly more alert (and clean) afterwards.
In a similar way Jess mentions the importance of keeping your sense of humour. Sometimes when you look around at how crazy your life is, what else can you do but laugh. I suppose it is about keeping perspective and not letting it all get to you. Jess would also tell herself..”it won’t be forever” and would also remind herself of how blessed she was to have twins.”
As we know all too well, sleep deprivation is a form of torture. From the parents I spoke to a common theme of keeping sane was to sleep whenever you can.
Jen from my anti natal class told me she expressed milk during the day so that her husband could do the late evening feed, and she could get a decent stretch of sleep. “Five or six hours seemed pretty decent at the time.” According to Susi , “forget the household chores; grab any chance you can to recharge as you don’t know what the next 24hrs is going to be like and how many minutes/hours sleep you might get.”
Haidee also emphasised taking any chance you can to sleep, “even if it was just twenty minutes.”
Doing what works for you
For me to survive those early days I had to put no pressure on myself to be anything but a feeding machine. That worked for me – most of the time.
A woman in my anti natal class was the opposite. She needed to get out of the house every day. Personally I was very aware of my limitations and did what worked best for me. A friend of mine Hayley also talked about the importance of being kind to herself – ‘I took up any offer of help and kept my expectations very low and eased into a routine without putting pressure on myself to get them sleeping through the night.
All parents of twins advised me to wake both to feed together, which mostly I did but once we worked out one had reflux it was all about resettling him and not disrupting his sister who mostly slept through from about 6 weeks.” Hayley found her own routine that worked for her children.
Whenever I made myself go for a walk, I would return feeling better. Something about the fresh air and a change of scene makes everything seem a bit more bearable.
Jen said that it was her strategy when it all got a bit much. “I found that the babies and I chilled out if we all went for a walk – it would take longer than the walk itself to get ready to go out, but it stopped them crying and calmed me down.” Susi also emphasised the importance of getting out for a walk on your own when your partner gets home from work to have a break.
It is important to remember you are not on your own. People want to help and may sometimes need a bit of direction as how to do that. Whether it is writing a list of things that need to be done on your fridge for friends or suggesting frozen meals are always gratefully received.
Jess emphasises the importance of not being too proud to ask for help and some time out. Remember it’s not forever, it’s just an intense time that will soon pass. Susi’s anti natal group would encourage anyone that needed a rest to have a sleep at the host house and between them they would look after their babies.
Going to the multiple birth club playgroup is also a really nice idea to connect with other parents. For me, I enjoyed having a bit of structure to the day and when my husband asked the inevitable question, “how was your day?” I actually had something to talk about! Rachel also found it helpful going to multiple birth club morning teas and knowing others were in the same boat, and also, “seeing parents of older twins who looked sane and full of energy.”
I am a big believer in systems to make our household run. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t mean we have our systems organized, you just need to walk into my house to see that. Choose things that are necessary for your house to function. For us it was the washing. I realised that by doing a load of washing at night and then another one in the morning I had two loads of washing ready to go when the babies went down for their morning nap.
If you are breastfeeding you need to ensure you are organised before you sit down. Rachel bought a hands free attachment for her phone so she could connect with other people while she was feeding. These days with smart phones you can also keep in touch with the outside world using texts and the internet.
Believe it or not, you even have to be organized with getting enough food for you – especially if you are breastfeeding. Haidee snacked often in those early days, including in the middle of the night when she was feeding the babies. “If nobody else was going to be around to pass me something to eat, I grabbed a snack and a drink before I sat down with the babies; getting up again was too much hassle!”
Haidee would also use a journal system to help remember details about who was fed when and for how long, and from which breast and record dirty nappies, “somewhat obsessively at first, as there was no way I’d remember from one hour to the next.”
In a way I suppose getting through that first year is about getting back to basics and not putting too many expectations on yourself. Jen says her enduring memory of those first few weeks (through the haze of sleep deprivation) is of how amazingly supportive her friends and family were. Enjoy the gift of new life and the generosity it brings in those around us. As my friend who recently found me on facebook, commented “I see you have twins – instant legend status.” Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Remember if you can get through those early days, you can do anything. For more great advice on raising multiples check out our Twins and multiple births section.