The twins turned five weeks old yesterday, and I thought I would offer some observations about the experience so far for anyone who might be curious. First off, parenting two newborns is not as hectic as I anticipated it would be. Partially this is because Kris’s mom, my fabulous mother-in-law Shari, stayed with us for three weeks after the twins’ birth, and even invited her sister Judy (Great Jude, as she is known to the next generation) for a week’s visit. This means that for the first month, the number of adults was greater than or equal to the number of children in our household, and each twin almost always had an adult to hold her, at least during daylight hours. Shari even stayed up nights for the first week, despite our assurances she didn’t need to. Seriously, I can only imagine the chaos without Shari and Jude’s assistance.
Another reason that having two newborns may seem less chaotic is that we know more now about what to expect, particularly when it comes to feeding problems and colic. Kris, we learned when Alex was born, is unable to breast feed. But we only discovered that after two weeks of herbs, medication, folk remedies, pumping, and use of a supplemental nursing system (SNS) that involved inserting a tube into Alex’s mouth while she nursed and “injecting” formula into the tube via a feeding syringe. With the SNS, feeding Alex required two adults every two hours for the first few days after we realized she was, well, basically starving. We can joke about it now because she’s perfectly healthy (in the 75th percentile across the board, size-wise), but when the visiting nurse informed us that she had dropped ten ounces after coming home and needed to be fed PRONTO, we understandably felt a bit alarmed by our lack of parenting know-how.
Still, we learned much from that near-disaster, and decided that if the milk came in this time around (not very likely, according to every medical person and midwife we consulted), fantastic. If not, we weren’t prepared to go to such extreme lengths, particularly with two infants and a toddler to look after. In the hospital, we put the twins on formula at the earliest indication of jaundice, and switched them to the sensitive stomach formula at the first sign of fussiness. Kris nursed them both for a bit, but the milk didn’t come in this time, either, so the twins are formula babies, just like their older sister. Without the stress of the SNS, and with the early adoption of reduced lactose formula, feeding and its aftermath have been so much better for mothers and babies than it was with our singleton. Again, not what I anticipated.
Another bonus this time around is that I get six weeks off of work. With Alex, I was brand new to my job and the state Family Leave Act didn’t cover me, so I only took two weeks off. Federal FMLA didn’t cover me either time, since DOMA prevents the U.S. government from recognizing me either as a spouse to my wife or as a parent to my children (#GovernmentFail). But this time around, because the state of Washington views me both as a wife and mother, I haven’t yet had to do the night shift with the twins and then get up and stumble blearily off to work to stand at the copy machine doing the newborn dance—bouncing slightly and swaying from side to side—with nary a baby in sight. Whew. Far better to be sleep-deprived and underperforming at home than in a professional setting, I always say.
And yet, even with all of these positives, parenting twin newborns and a toddler is not easy, of course. Sometimes all three beings under the age of two and a quarter get to crying at the same time, and then the cacophony is somewhat stress-inducing, as you might imagine. In fact, a handful of times when I’ve been by myself on late-night duty, I’ve had to close a door on the crying twins and walk away to try to regain control over my emotions. At dinner a few nights ago, I actually burst into tears and had to lock myself in my office where I cried great gulping sobs over my parental incompetence and multiple failures. With Alex, I came close to the edge in those early weeks, as many parents of newborns do. But now there’s a toddler in the mix, which is alternately beautiful and exponentially more frustrating.
I sometimes wonder if other parents feel like they’re betraying their firstborn(s) by bonding with the new arrival(s). Occasionally when I hold Ellie or Sydney and coo at them, I’ll glance up to find Alex watching me with an uncharacteristically brooding look. As a result, in the beginning I found myself bypassing bonding moments with the twins in order to maintain my ties with their older sister. As the weeks have passed, though, I think I’ve started to get the hang of involving Alex in bonding activities with the babies—face time on the couch, with her helping “hold” one of the twins; long walks with her helping “push” the stroller; or play time on the activity mat, with Alex jiggling the rattles for her baby sisters.
She’s been a great help so far, and very attuned to her sisters’ needs. We’re lucky, as we try to acknowledge as often as possible. Even when the noise and exhaustion is so great that I find myself longing to return to work, I try to remind myself that this, too, is just a stage, like every other part of infancy/childhood/parenting. And soon enough—next week in fact—I’ll be back at work, wishing I could see my children more than only on evenings and weekends. <Sigh>
The good thing is that as a second-time parent, I know how quickly the time passes. And as a youngest sibling myself, I can now say with conviction that firstborn children have it way better than the next one(s). When Alex was a “tiny little baby,” as she refers to her sisters, she would look like she was maybe, possibly, perhaps going to cry, and Kris or I would swoop in and pick her up or shake a rattle or take her for a walk in the front pack. Unfortunately for E & S, we don’t have the same resources of time or energy available to soothe them. Sometimes, they just have to cry. And cry, and cry…
With Alex, we viewed every unanswered cry as a black mark against our parental honor. With the twins, we tell ourselves that crying is what babies do, just as toddlers routinely say no, stick random objects up their noses, and gallop around the house singing the same songs over and over while their parents try to resist snarky comments like, “You know, all your favorite songs—Twinkle Twinkle, Baa Baa Black Sheep, ABCD—have the same tune.” Or, “Actually, it’s ‘one for my master,’ not ‘one for my hamster.’”
Fortunately, as a non-newbie parent, I recognize that the bad moments are typically fleeting while the good moments often linger. Like the car ride Alex and I took a few days ago to meet the Bookmobile—the sun was out, the windows were open, and we were singing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” Alex’s favorite song of the week. I glanced in the rear-view mirror, and there was my big kid singing off key and smiling back at me with the sunlight a halo in her blonde-brown curls, and I was overcome by such a wave of love and happiness that I can still easily conjure it even now.
As the Indigo Girls say, “A moment of peace is worth every war behind us.” Most days, I believe them.