LIVING WITH TWINS
By Gudrun Von Selzman
published in Birth Issues, Spring 2003 and Summer 2012
Having twins has been an amazing roller coaster of challenge and wonder for me. The first months after Benjamin and Montana were born are a big blur in my memory. I believe all I did was nurse, change diapers, and find creative ways how to keep them from screaming. Robin, my then 2.5-year-old girl, had gone back to diapers for a while after the birth of the twins, so I did end up changing, for the first couple of months, the cloth diapers of all three kids. I mention cloth diapers because they were something that I truly believed in using, and liked, and wanted to use (I had used them all along with Robin.), but after a few weeks I had to let go of that ideal, plainly because they just ended up being too much work for us in our situation. I still feel strange at times when I think about the landfill I contributed to and the philosophy I chose to abandon to stay sane back then. Well, I did not abandon my philosophy, but I allowed myself to choose what was more important at the time, and that was having less diaper changes in our life. I remember being disgusted and, at the same time, amazed by paper diapers and the fact that my kids did not feel wet after many pees, and what in the world must be in those diapers to create that magic.
I was fortunate enough to have my partner, Ted, around. We owned our own business and he was able to choose his own work hours. He never left before he had made breakfast for us and he came back in the afternoon, when I often was on the edge of losing it. It was, and still is, amazing to me that he almost always, no matter what, put his family first before work. He had the incredible gift of finding ways to balance those two parts of his life.
Things I used and did when my twins were little:
- A swing for Benjamin, who did not seem to go to sleep unless he got rocked.
- A soother for Montana, who needed to suck on something to go to sleep.
- A side-by-side fold-up stroller that was narrow enough to fit through normal doors.
- Sheep-skins for them to sleep on.
- A U-shaped nursing pillow for tandem nursing (tricky in the beginning when there is nobody around to hand the babies to you, but a bit less time consuming than nursing them one-by-one.).
- When they got into rolling age, a crib they shared right by our bed, because we were afraid they would roll themselves out of our bed when they were sleeping alone in the evenings.
- Glow-in-the-dark soothers for the constant “waking-up-because-the-soother-fell-out” problem. I should mention here that I never was a big fan of soothers but they ended up saving our sanity, and they actually helped them both take two naps, later one long one, until they were almost four. I threw them in the garbage one day, and “just could not” find them ever again.
- A carpeted, almost empty (except of safe baby toys and a few pillows) room with a gate, once they crawled and walked, where I spent most of my day playing and nursing.
- Double-decker nursing in bed lying on my side with the heavier baby on the bottom, which only worked when they were really young!
- Sleeping with them in our bed (Ted and Robin slept somewhere else for a while in the beginning).
- Exchanging baby-sitting for 2 hours a week with my friend Jill, who has two children the same age as mine (that meant three babies and 2 three year olds, but it was totally worth it, even though there were days where we had two hours of pure screaming chaos.).
I nursed them until they were 20 months-old and weaned them cold turkey one day, a couple of weeks before we had to fly to Germany, which was17 hours of traveling time with no seats for the twins. I felt that it would be too difficult to try nursing them on the plane, and I felt ready for a change. They did not mind too much, which surprised me since they had been nursing quite a bit up until then. I remember being so engorged the second day after I stopped, that I snuck into their room when they were in a deep sleep and nursed them one more time. They nursed in their sleep and actually never woke up or remembered. Sneaky me!
I did not even attempt to potty train them. It had been so frustrating with Robin, back and forth, back and forth, that I just decided to wait until they were ready and showed definite signs of being ready. For night time it took them a long time, they were deep sleepers once they slept, but I had one thing less to worry about. I kept it to myself since I thought we were the only ones being so ‘late’, but I hear from more and more people now that their kids used pull-up diapers at night until Kindergarten age or longer. I figured that it really didn’t matter, I knew it would happen one day, and my dad’s bragging that he was dry when he was not even a year old did not bother me much.
Things really got easier when they were about 3.5-years-old. They started actually playing together and without me for longer periods of time. They also began to wake up less often, even though between the three of them we still were up at least twice every night until they were about five years old.
Being our second and third children, Benjamin and Montana hardly ever spent time with us on their own. I sometimes wonder if I should have made more time for them individually, but it just did not happen. Later, we started having dates with each child alone every once in a while, and we still do that. It feels good.
Two more things I want to add:
- Their birthdays require two very different looking cakes, but until the last couple of years’ only one birthday party, thankfully!
- The book I would highly recommend to anybody expecting or parenting twins is Elizabeth Noble’s book “Having Twins1”. It was incredibly helpful in my pregnancy and afterwards. If you just want to read one twin book, this would be the one!
In her article, “Mothering Multiples2”, Shirley Menggering offers these additional tips:
1. Help. If I could give moms of multiples one piece of advice, it would be to get help. Help doing laundry, cleaning, making meals, caring for older children, whatever you can get. You may need to pay for it but it’s worth it. I should mention, however, that although help is essential, it is kind of a mixed blessing. With my daughter, I had managed everything on my own because I really didn’t need any help. When you do things yourself you get to do them how you want, and when you want. When you get help, you may have to spend time explaining how you would like things done and accept that they may not be done as you would do them. There is some loss of control and although there is really no way around this because it is the lesser of two evils, it may require some adjustment.
2. Other people. When our boys were 3 days old, I took them out for a walk in our (new) double stroller. It had not occurred to me previously what a novelty twins are to most people. Complete strangers will stop and talk to you about your babies, their babies, and anything else. I knew some moms who love the attention and some who don’t. For me it was rather enlightening because having had a singleton previously, I knew that, relatively, a single baby does not get nearly the attention from strangers. I had taken my daughter almost everywhere and rarely would anyone stop to talk to us. So, since my boys were born, I have made a point of talking to many moms of singletons about their babies. I do not feel that multiples should be treated differently from singletons and because frequently they are, it may be hard on their siblings. I have gone out with my children and people will stop and talk to me about the boys without even noticing my daughter. I always make sure to draw attention to her as well so she doesn’t feel any less important.
“Under this category would also have to go the questions. When my boys were about two weeks old someone stopped me in a store and asked me if I had been on fertility drugs. I can’t remember what I said because I was so surprised. Then there are the questions about who is the smart one, bigger one, happy one, etc. People will ask you all kinds of questions that they wouldn’t if you were pushing a single baby in a stroller. I wish someone had mentioned this to me before I experienced it so I might have been a little more prepared.
3. Nursing. Having nursed one child for 2 ½ years, I knew how enjoyable the nursing relationship could be and was determined to nurse my boys. My daughter nursed well right from the beginning and because she refused to eat any ground foods, she was exclusively nursed until she was 9 months old. I knew how easy, portable and affordable nursing could be when it goes well. Nursing more than one can be problem-free or not. For me, nursing two different babies with different nursing styles and demands was a lot of work and I never considered it work with one. I nursed the boys until they were 19 months old at which point they weaned themselves, but it was always more complicated than with my daughter.
4. Getting out. I used to think it was hard getting out of the house with my daughter when she was a baby. Getting two infants and a preschooler dressed to go outside every day was an incredible amount of work, but worth it. Whether it’s just a walk around the block or to the local store or to the park, it really helped me keep my sanity. There are lots of local playgroups that are free, or informal mom’s groups that are very helpful. La Leche League meetings are a fantastic way to network with other moms and it would be hard to find a more supportive group. When I needed it most, they were there with genuine concern and assistance.
5. Benefits. In spite of the extra work involved with having two babies at the same time (especially the first 18 months), at age 2 ½ years, I can honestly say that I have recently found some amazing benefits to having twins. When the boys were infants and both cranky and crying and people would tell me how lucky I was to have twins because they would entertain each other I felt like saying, ‘When? When will this happen?’. It does happen and it’s fantastic. Unfortunately, you have to survive the first 2 ½ years to get to that point, but then you realize that your babies will never be alone, that they will always have a little friend to talk to and think about. In my crazier moments I have even thought of how nice it would be if my daughter had a twin brother or sister to be close to because she is kind of on her own when we got to the park or on outings. I believe this is a reward for surviving the first two years. I do feel very lucky to have the opportunity to raise twins and watch the unique relationship that develops between the two. I am enjoying this experience immensely and I believe I have the best job in the world.
I first wrote this article in 2003 when the twins were 7-years-old. They are 16-year-old teenagers now! They have a passion for live theatre, music, sports, dance, traveling, and environmental issues. They get along really well. All my children have been home-schooled most of their lives, which gave us the chance to do some amazing trips off-season. For the last couple of years, they have been taking some option classes at a high school. Robin is traveling and working in Australia right now.
Gudrun Von Selzam is passionate about birth, parenting, and homeschooling issues. She loves spending time with her children, traveling, going to live theatre, and working at the Waldorf Independent School of Edmonton (W.I.S.E) as an Early Childhood Educator and teacher. She was co-editor for Birth Issues in 1999.
Editorial notes: 1. Elizabeth Noble. Having Twins And More: A Parent’s Guide to Multiple Pregnancy, Birth, and Early Childhood. (Mariner Books, 2003, 3rd edition). 2. Sherry Menggering. “Mothering Multiples”. Birth Issues, Spring 2003.