Looking back on the time that my twins were infants, sometimes I wonder how I survived that first year without significant hair loss and mental duress.
I have four kids. A sixteen year old boy (Trey), a 4-year-old boy (Jonah), and 21 months behind him the twins: 2-year-olds Max and Macy.
I had Trey when I was just a baby myself. I had gotten pregnant my last semester of high school and gave birth to him during my midterms of my freshman year of college. I finished the semester with a 4.0 and nursed Trey a whole year.
After a failed marriage and several failed pregnancies, Jonah came twelve years later. I was a manager at a huge retail store and went back to work within 8 weeks. I nursed Jonah exclusively, so many hours were spent in my office with the horrible sounds of my electric breast pump working itself (and me) to death.
Three months after Jonah’s first birthday, I learned I was pregnant with twins! There was no elation running through my body. All I felt was fear. I couldn’t fathom that I would be the mother to four and I also stressed about pregnancy loss. (I will write my birth/pregnancy story another time.) The further along my pregnancy progressed, though, my fear was replaced with confidence. I figured I survived being a full time student at only 18 and nursing my baby full time. I survived corporate hell and no sleep for a year with a baby and we were great! I could handle twins! Twins were going to be a cinch!
My husband and I decided I’d stay home full time after all the bed rest and child care costs so I was ready to tackle the task! I was superwoman! Ready to conquer the realm of twins with no hesitation.
Well… hats off to all moms out there, but I’ll take my shirt off and give it to you moms of multiples. Infant twins are tough and I’m a proud survivor.
First of all, knowing that it’s going to be twice the work, and executing it are very different. My twins came out with very different schedules and needs. Neither ever wanted to feed together, sleep together, or anything together. I felt my life was a constant cycle of breastfeeding, pumping, changing, bathing, holding and kissing
I am super blessed my twins came home straight from the hospital, but I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t get Macy to latch on for almost five months. Max was a nursing fool from three weeks on, but my girl needed coaxing. So in addition to eight to ten nursing sessions, I had to pump every three hours. Their toddler brother was very upset he’d been kicked off the mommy milk train and began to throw tantrums at the sight of me doing either.
My house looked like a Babies ‘R Us. I didn’t have much help from anyone because my husband was working constantly and most of my family was far away. My extra hands were swings, bouncers, Boppy pillows and Bumbos. I tried to hold at least one baby at all times because I felt guilty to put them down. I held and rocked my singletons constantly. I cried daily thinking I didn’t bond with my twins the same way.
With twins, I had to learn to just “let it go”. This was the hardest thing to learn and I still struggle with it. My house isn’t the dust free museum of cleanliness it once was. I have relinquished control of laundry, dishes, and pretty much anything that doesn’t need immediate attention. My home is not a pig sty, but my children are evident in every square inch.
The biggest difference of having one infant compared to two was what happened within myself.
I can give lots of advice on what gadgets to use, how to wear twins while pushing a stroller and shopping for six, how to tandem nurse successfully, or how to baby proof anything. I have tons of ‘how-tos’ to hand out.
Those things were helpful to know. The real secret and best piece of wisdom I have though is: Be willing to change.
Be willing to accept defeat. Be okay with crying. Be okay with not being superwoman. You will adapt no matter the circumstances. One baby or three, working or not, single or married. I do so many things I never thought possible.
My twins are now two and it’s a whole new level of difficulty. They run in a dozen different directions every time I blink.
That first year, though… I survived! And so did they.
There are a few things that still hold strong in my memory of the early days with Molly & Jack. Two of the most frustrating were the colic (Molly) and the lack of mobility involved with managing two very tiny babies. Molly was a colicky infant and as such we spent countless hours trying to soothe what one of our sitters coined as her “siren scream”. We would rock her, we would walk her, we would take shifts, we would sing to her, we would wear an ipod to block out the noise, you get the idea.
There were three things that seemed to calm the savage beast (sorry Molly, you’re really quite lovely nowadays): 1) Television: specifically the static “fuzzy” channel turned on high volume or hockey. 2) The vacuum and 3) going for long, long walks.
In summer and fall it was quite easy to go for lengthy strolls around our fair city of Toronto. Jack would usually fall asleep or blissfully look around. As the weather turned cold we had fewer options, so we turned our routes indoors to malls, greenhouses, bookstores and other places that could house our motley crue.
The more time I spent travelling with my double stroller the more I came to realize how many businesses or public places are not well equipped for double strollers (let alone wheelchairs). A particularly frustrating trip out was when I couldn’t fit my stroller, the store clerk and myself into the elevator of a bookstore at the same time (the infant/children section was on the second floor). I literally had to run up the escalator so the staffer with the key to operate the elevator could meet me with my children on the second floor. I was exhausted, with limited options and absolutely livid at my situation in general and the store. This was a place meant for children and I couldn’t access it with my stroller without compromising the care of my children (even if it was just for 30 seconds).
When I commiserated about this with a fellow MoM she told me she had templated a letter that sent out regularly to complain about stroller/wheelchair access issues at businesses that she wanted to frequent, but couldn’t because of her needs. Because of my unique stroller needs, my eyes were opened to how little effort so many places put into accessibility. For me the double stroller was just temporary, many other people face these roadblocks daily and for their entire lives.
Nowadays I notice when a business has ramps, automatic doors and adequate door space and I try to reward these places with my business (even now when most of the time my children are walking). How have your experiences as parents of multiples changed your perspectives on mobility?
Parenting twins is hard. The first three months are very hard. You can call it what you like–“the fourth trimester,” “the trenches,” “survival mode”–any veteran mom of twins will tell you that this period is an uphill battle.
The bear climbed over the mountain,
the bear climbed over the mountain.
The bear climbed over the mountain
to see what he could see.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of that time, which I am heartbroken about. It’s true what they say, that the time goes too fast. It’s bittersweet in some ways. You wish for it to get easier, and then when it does, you realize that you’ve wished away their tiny newborn-ness. You don’t get to have easy and new twins. Actually, as a twin-mom, I don’t think you get easy–ever!
The good news about survival mode is that you don’t have to feel guilty about it. You can’t regret anything you did or didn’t do, because you are just doing whatever it takes to survive. Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but knowing this has been a comfort to me when I start to second guess my new mom self.
The bad news about survival mode is…it doesn’t just go away. It ebbs and flows. There are easy times and harder times.
For me, the first three months were a blur. Then it got better–we moved to Scotland and got settled in, my sister-in-law came to visit. We visited castles and tried new food. My mom and sister came to visit. More castles, more new things. When my mom left, though, I felt like I couldn’t get back on track. Maybe it was because it was summertime, and the days were literally longer? The twins were 9 months old and not even crawling yet. Surely things shouldn’t have been so difficult…right?
And all that he could see
And all that he could see
Was the other side of the mountain,
the other side of the mountain.
The other side of the mountain was all that he could see.
Looking back on it now it’s clear how much I was struggling. At the time, though, I don’t think I fully realized it. I knew things were difficult, but I think I just accepted that life was hard and didn’t have much hope that they’d get better. (Did I mention that my 14 month olds still don’t sleep through the night?)
It’s not all bleak though. In the past month or two, I really feel like my little family unit has turned a corner. Naps and bedtime are more consistent, we have daily activities planned. We went on a vacation, and that really helped recharge me. Not just any vacation will do it, though–we stayed with my husband’s family and I didn’t cook or clean for two weeks. And I can’t speak for the babies, but I certainly napped like a champ!
The best tip I might give another mama struggling through survival mode, whether it’s three months or six months or even a year old, is to prioritize.
Oh wait, you’ve heard that one before, have you?
I know it sounds easy–let your house be messy, forget about laundry–those are the easy ones. What is harder is to make yourself a priority. YOU need to get yours, mama bear. Recharge. Sleep. Eat food food. Sleep.
You might not see it now, but sooner or later you’ll be coming down the mountain and enjoying the view. You’ll look back up at that mountain peak proudly. Now that you’re off that mountain, hell, you might even remember it fondly.
Mercedes is an American expat raising her toddling twins with her husband in Aberdeen, Scotland. You can read more about their adventures at her blog, Project Procrastinot.
This is based on the first blog post I ever wrote, Me…Start a Blog? when my fraternal twins were 1-year-5-months old. Reading blogs like HDYDI and other MoT, MoM blogs gave me a sense of connectedness, of support and of resources that helped get me through the first-year-and-a-half of parenting our prematurely born twins, who did NICU time in Hong Kong, for 3 and 6 weeks, and then “house-arrest” time for another 5 months.
Once I started the blog, I updated it consistently while in Chengdu, China and even wrote as an author for HDYDI for a while.
For the last year we have been living on a Thai island, a dream come true. Rahul and Leila are 4 now, swimming and running around barefoot with their friends. They go to pre-school and I am doing my yoga practices and teaching again.
I don’t update my blog as frequently anymore, still enjoy it, but there isn’t that same need to get past the difficult, painful experiences of the the NICU time, to express every moment or milestone, to compare with others, or to validate my parenting choices. There continue to be many stories, but for the moment they feature less frequently on the blog.
I have great blogger friends whose ideas and thoughts inspire me, and I found solidarity with many of them at a time when I needed it most, and now I hope some of these posts can do the same for others.
Over the last two years my world has revolved around taking care of Leila and Rahul, my almost year-and-a-half twins. So to start a blog now, seems a bit strange. What could I possibly have to say? And when?! I don’t know which regimes are being toppled over, I haven’t seen photos of the effects of the recent earthquake in Japan, I don’t know what yoga workshops are on in the region, don’t know if Federer is still kicking ass, or who presented at the Chengdu Bookworm literary festival; or anything for that matter. Outrageous, I know.
Only a few years earlier I didn’t even know what a blog was until friends in Chengdu complained that they couldn’t access blogspot. Facebook, YouTube, and a number of blogging sites are blocked in China.
After some complications in my pregnancy while in China, I ended up spending 4 months in bed including 7 weeks in hospital, split into 4 different hospital stays.
A number of foreign doctors here, in Shanghai, and Beijing recommended that we leave for the birth, due to the high risk of going into preterm labour and possible lack of high level care for premature babies.
So we went to Hong Kong at 26 weeks gestation. L and R came at 31 weeks, and were cared for at the Queen Mary NICU.
The bed-rest, high-speed internet and open access to all sites meant lots of time on the internet, and my initiation to blogs. But it was only when L and R were five-months-old, after my mum who had spent 9 months with me left, and both of those things coincided with our return to Chengdu that I really got into it.
I came upon some blogs that MoT’s wrote. For the first time in a long time I felt like I could relate. They wrote how exhausted they were, how they only bathed their babies a couple of times a week, rarely dressed them in anything other than pyjamas. I didn’t feel as guilty anymore that L and R didn’t go out everyday. They weren’t the only ones. To have them both ready to go out meant nappies changed, both well fed, not too tired, and a big diaper bag full of provisions.
I remember a post by a father of twins about how his two-year-old girls were finally sleeping through the night, most of the time, anyways. So my two waking up a few times each and every night means I can still be considered in the norm.
One mum wrote about her birth story; similar to mine – it included flights, hospital stays for both mum and babies, pumping pumping pumping, stress, fear, pain, relief.
Then there was one couple that blogged about their micro-preemie twins birth, NICU stay including all the medical details, the obsession with weight gain, the monitors, breathing, digestion, good days, bad days. It wasn’t the most fun blog I ever read. They were born much earlier than L and R, but I could relate to much of it and realised that I would have to deal with this part of R and L, and in fact all 4 of our lives one day, and to be at peace with it somehow.
Reading these stories was like holding a mirror out in front of me, a way to see what we had been through, a way to realize we were not alone – and importantly to let go of it.
There were honest, touching posts as well like the one HDYDI MoT, rebecca, who wrote One Baby Envy. Others complained about the silly questions they got when they took their twins out. If I get started on the questions and comments I got in Chengdu it would never end.
Sometimes the comments on the blogs were funny – MoM’s bitching about how J Lo (on the cover of People Magazine, March 2008) could possibly look as perfect so soon after she had her twins.
I related to these parents and it helped with the isolation I sometimes felt being in China without my family and with no experience with babies whatsoever. Neither of my brothers or brothers-in-law have children. One of my childhood friends has a son in Zambia who I haven’t yet met. I had held one of my friend’s tiny new born baby in Lebanon a couple of times last year feeling clumsy and incapable all the time. So yes, I had that experience.
I had a few parenting books. They only briefly covered twins if at all.
But, we were together again after my 6 month stint in Hong Kong, the 4 of us in Chengdu. That was our main source of strength. I had help from people here. L and R’s nanny or “ayi” meaning aunty as she is called endearingly is a superwoman, a great source of real support and help.
A friend as close as I imagine a sister to be was strong and present when I needed her most.
Another friend lent me lifesaving books at every stage along the way. And there were many others who made up my “village”, both in real life and in my blog life. The crazy thing now is that sometimes my kids both sleep for a few hours at the same time, but silly mama stays up to blog.
In addition to relating to other mums and dads on blogs, I found tips, such as this post that gives advice about choosing a double stroller that works for you depending on it’s use, tips like store big quantities of diapers, wet -wipes, food etc. so you don’t need to go out to the stores until really necessary. Obvious, but hey at least I don’t feel crazy when I walk into my pantry and see the hoarding.
There were videos of calm mums simultaneously feeding their babies. R and L were rarely on the same schedule, so it didn’t apply, but still nice to see how others do it.
So even though I live in this tiny world of eating, playing, bathing, trying to schedule, exploring and sleepless nights, I feel like I am above water now, some of time at least.
I now have the privilege to share my own stories and maybe get some interaction going. Perhaps a new mum, even a MoT will come across it and feel she can relate, find some useful information, or just have a laugh. I would be glad to contribute to that somehow.
These are stories for R and L to read one day if they want to. And if nothing else a way for friends and family to keep up with our lives in China, or wherever.
The other day I read a blog about the therapeutic effects of blogging. That did it for me, a few minutes later I signed up! Not really, I’m exaggerating, but it made me realise that every time I put down my thoughts they rarely came out negative or depressive, but rather I manage to find the “funny” in things, now that I am not sinking all the time, of course. It reminded me of a phrase from a song my dad often used to say to his not so smiley teenage daughter,
When you smile the whole world smiles with you. When you cry, you cry alone.
Natasha is mum of 4-year-old fraternal twins Leila and Rahul. She moved to Koh Samui, Thailand, with her children after spending 7 years in China. Her husband Maher, travels back and forth because work is in China. She has started practicing her yoga more regularly again, and even teaches a few classes a week, after a three year break. She blogs at her personal site Our Little Yogis and at Multicultural Mothering.
One of the most exciting first-year milestones is when your babies learn to crawl. The sense of joy that they get from being able to decided where they want to go is contagious. As fun as this milestone is for the babies, for parents it can present new challenges in maintaining our sanity and the safety of our children.
If your kids are like mine, as soon as they could move they started to cause trouble. I have been wooed with stories from other parents who have perfectly well behaved children, children who never touch an outlet and never dare to open a kitchen cabinet. My kids are polar opposites to these [saintly] kids. Without exaggeration, the very first place baby B headed when he learned to crawl was to the only visible power outlet in the living room. I genuinely feel like he had been plotting his attack for months and liberated by his new- found crawling skills, he went right for it. My children’s curiosity did not stop at power outlets. Since learning to walk they have figured out how to open all the cupboard that have baby proof latches, they have ripped the stove safety latch right off (by pulling on the stove handle together), and they can turn door handles and unlock doors without any trouble. Their rambunctious tendencies have made me an expert on keeping our kids safe while maintaining our sanity and I want to share some insight with you!
Step 1: Create a safe play space for your twins to play.
For us, it was really important to have a safe play space that we could drop our boys into if we needed to be hands free for a short period of time. In addition, we needed a play area that kept our dogs separate from the babies (until we were sure that everyone could coexist happily). In our house, that meant we designated a large portion of our living room to be their play space. Around the time they started to crawl, we purchased two play yards and hooked them together to create the perimeter of “their space”. We filled the area with foam flooring and toys and used this setup until they started to shake the play yard walls and kept trying to open the play yard door (~ 13 or 14 months, around the time that they became proficient walkers). Designating an area in our main living space allowed me the freedom to step into the kitchen to prepare food and bottles as needed as well as the ability to play with them in the most open and spacious part of our house. In addition to their play space, we made sure that their bedroom was a secondary safe place that the boys could play freely (and alone for very short periods of time (e.g. while I used the restroom). Having two reliable spaces kept things interesting for the boys and gave me a little more freedom than just having a single safe area to play.
Step 2: Have a place your twins can play separately.
One of the most unique challenges that twin parents have to deal with is that we are not only trying to keep our children safe from themselves, but we are also trying to keep them safe from each other. My boys love each other and are great playmates, but they have gone through phases where they gnaw on, bat at, roll over and generally torture their sibling for either attention or general exploration. (Side note: I have found that period of teething have been especially difficult. During these times, sibling biting is usually at a high and it is important to have a place to separate the boys when one needs a break). In some cases, a separate play space may just be their cribs (sometimes it is fun to let them play in the others bed. This way they do not feel like it is nap time or you are trying to make them go to bed). Alternatively, if you have the space, keeping one (or two) pack n plays around is a great way to create two sanctuaries when your kids need to be separated. Moreover, keep toys that can used as weapons (mallets, hammers, bats, swords, pull toys with strings) out of communal play spaces until your kids understand how to play with these things. Some toys that are perfectly safe for singleton babies just don’t work will for twins who play together in small(ish) spaces.
Step 3: Childproof your whole house.
Affix cabinet locks, doorknob protectors, stove locks, gas stove knob protectors, socket protectors, protectors for the strings on your blinds, gates for stairs and doorways, toilet locks, change the temperature of your hot water heater, bolt furniture and TVs down so they cannot tip, and the list goes on and on. Assess the risk factors within your home and decided which strategies will work best for you. Sometimes it was just easier to bock off a whole room or a cupboard until the boys learned to listen than to have to childproof the entire room or cabinet if your kids are not going to have consistent access to a specific area. Your child proofing strategies will change as your kids get older, more mobile, and more mature so this is a constant work in progress.
Step 4: Have confidence in your judgment.
Some things are just not safe for your children to play with or play around. As twin parents, it is easy to feel like we spend a lot of time saying “no” for the safety of our children. Make your environment work for you. The more baby friendly areas your house has, the more autonomy you can give your kids and the more relaxed you can be within your own home.
In my last Twinfant Tuesday post, I talked about the things that make the first year of parenthood challenging: not knowing your kids’ likes and dislikes, not being able to ask babies what they want, the expense, the sleep deprivation. These are things common to all parents, not just parents of multiples.
There are challenges that are unique to us, though, unique to those of us who proudly (or tentatively) wear the badge of the Mother of Multiples club, that exclusive, amazing, inspiring, terrifying club that we find ourselves in. Feeding alone is (warning: pun ahead) all-consuming. Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively bottle-feeding, doing both, or somewhere in between, feeding multiple infants is crazytown.
When I recently visited Liggy‘s perfect little ones, we found ourselves talking about how, after nursing for over 12 hours a day, we just don’t want to be touched any more. Even hugs or affection from our pets feel like invasions in those rare moments that our bodies belong to us.
It’s not that we resent the time that our babies are nursing or snuggling. That contact is still beautiful and (once you have the babies’ preferences figured out) peaceful. It’s that nursing contact is the only contact that our senses can handle. It’s as if our bodies are primed to breastfeed and all other physical contact, no matter how otherwise welcome, pushes our sensory capacity over the edge.
Tandem? Sequential? What if We Have More Than Two?
“It’s a good thing you have two breasts,” my daughter M mused the other day.
“True,” I responded. “You know that Aunt D had triplets.”
“I was just thinking that!” M exclaimed. “I guess she had to use three bottles…”
“No, she actually breastfed,” I informed her, proudly.
M was floored. “SHE HAS A SECRET BREAST?”
It’s not just 7-year-olds who assume that breastfeeding more than two babies is downright impossible. While it’s not impossible, it is indescribably difficult. Juggling the babies, consuming enough calories and fluids, getting everyone comfortable, making time for anything else…. People who haven’t experienced life with multiple infants just don’t understand.
Even those who have observed for a few hours can’t possibly imagine what it really means to breastfeed more than one child at a time. You have to get everyone to cooperate. Maybe you’re able to produce enough milk, but if just one of your babies refuses to nurse unless she’s lying across your lap without another baby in the way, there goes tandem nursing.
I like words. I love writing. I just do not have the words to explain how incredibly hard it is to breastfeed two. I know that I don’t have the capacity to comprehend how many harder it is to breastfeed more, and yet mothers do it. Every day. All day.
The Bottles, the Pump Parts, the Washing. Oh My!
When my sister was a baby, we washed her bottles by hand. We also had servants. There was one of her. It was still a lot of work.
I can’t tell you how glad I am to have a dishwasher. We used that thing. A lot.
Word to the wise: if you’re in the dishwasher market and considering having kids ever, buy a model that runs quietly. It was so worth the extra money to have a dishwasher we could run while the babies were sleeping.
Now add in all the breast pump parts that need to be washed. There are flanges and adapters and valves. Occasionally the tubing needs to be washed out. Depending on how you store you milk, there may be storage containers to wash.
Even if you use disposable bags for storing your milk, you have to restock those. You have to pull frozen milk out of the freezer to allow it to defrost.
There’s just so much stuff to remember and to do to keep our babies fed.
There are shortcuts that can make your life easier, things I wished I’d thought of earlier.
If formula is part of your game plan, as it was for us, consider preparing it by the pitcher instead of by the bottle. Just make enough for the day (or the night) and refrigerate it. Alternately, pre-measure you formula into individual containers so you don’t have to think about proportions or deal with scoops all day. Warning: this is another thing to wash!
It took me a while to realize that I could store the nipples assembled in their collars with the lids on. That saved me the assembly. My husband also loved drop-in bag/liners for thawed breastmilk.
If you’re pumping and nursing, you may be able to breastfeed on one side while pumping on the other. I don’t know about you, but I could get about 4 times as much milk from a pump-and-nurse session than from pumping alone. I found that my Medela flanges tucked comfortably into open-front and pull-down nursing bras for a hands-free experience.
I didn’t (and still don’t) remember all that I do in the middle of the night. I had to write down which baby I’d changed and when, who had eaten and when, who’d been fussy and when. Not only did our notebooks serve as a communication solution between my middle of the night zombie self and the awake version, but between me and my husband too. It didn’t hurt to have these notebooks on hand when we went to the pediatrician, either!
We found that one bottle parts dishwasher basket was inadequate, but two was plenty if we washed what we used daily. We ran the dishwasher on the sanitary cycle. We did not skip a night.
The vast majority of our kids grow into solid foods. They wean off the bottle or breast. Eventually, this becomes a vague memory. What stays with us are just impressions: the smell of the baby on our shoulder, burping while the other continues to suckle; the weight of our children in our arms; the weight of our eyelids; the sight of squishy cheeks; the leap of our hearts when we see our children holding hands; above all, the knowledge that we all survived.
We MoMs did the impossible, rendering it merely improbable.
What is/was hard about infant feeding in your family?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.
D has always loved his bath. The very first time he laughed was in the bath, as I trickled water on his chest.
A, on the other hand, had a rough beginning. A was initially bathed in the pink hospital storage bins. He hated every minute of it, screaming from the moment he was placed on the scale (precursor to bathing in the NICU) until he was hooked back up to all his various devices, dressed, and tightly swaddled. When he had open abdominal surgery at 29 days old, plus was given his gastrostomy tube, we were told not to bathe him for 6 weeks. Thus, he only had sponge baths, which he tolerated but did not enjoy. Before the 6 weeks had elapsed, A was given a PICC line in his arm, and we were told to not bathe him until he no longer had it. (An older child or adult could, I’m sure, bathe with a central line IV, but trying to keep an entire arm out of the bath and a wet, squirmy baby in the bath, is beyond most people, myself definitely included.) Then he had another abdominal surgery which necessitated a new ostomy for his G-tube, and another 6 weeks of no baths.
And so it was that A, at 5 months old, was given his first bath in an infant tub. I happen to love (love, love, LOVE) our infant tub. We used the “Whale of a PlayTub”. It worked perfectly from negative-three weeks old (D’s discharge from NICU) until almost a year old (longer for A, who is small and has low muscle tone). I was dismayed to see that his early fear/hatred of baths was still present. I mentioned it to his PT/OT from Early Intervention, who used to work as a NICU developmental therapist and is a genius when it comes to sensory issues. She and I gave A his first “swaddle bath” right in my living room.
Giving a swaddle bath is easy. The idea behind it is to help the baby feel safe and warm. A, like many NICU babies (and probably babies, period) felt insecure in the bath and needed to learn to love it. First, fill the tub with a few inches of warm water. Make sure to have a cup or ladle near by, along with towels, soap (if you’re using it), etc. Next, tightly swaddle the naked baby in a fleece blanket. (It has to be fleece; other fabrics quickly become cold when wet.) Then place the swaddled baby in the tub. I was amazed when we reached this step, as A did not scream in the slightest. Pour water over the baby, getting the whole blanket wet. The fleece will retain the warmth.
That can be it. Or, if your baby seems ready, unswaddle one limb at a time, wash it, then re-swaddle it. Always wash the head last, as it is exposed to the air and can get cold, plus the face can be very sensitive.
As time goes on, loosen the swaddle. Don’t re-swaddle the legs after washing. The idea is to gradual phase out the swaddle, depending on the baby’s needs. For A, he quickly progressed to only needing swaddling when transitioning in and out of the tub, then just in, then just loosely wrapped in a blanket which remained on the bottom of the tub after he was in, and then nothing. Now A, like D, is a water baby, loving baths, swimming, etc.
Because of my husband’s work schedule, I almost always did bath time alone during their first year. My twins couldn’t share a bath for quite some time (15 months is when we began), due to A’s difficulties with sitting upright and D’s propensity to yank on A’s G-tube. So I would put one in a bouncy seat (and later exersaucer) right outside the bathroom door, bathe the other, dress him, and then swap places. It worked very well. Bath time was one of my favorite times with the boys when they were infants, in part I think because it was largely one-on-one, and in part because they both loved their baths so much.
You can run errands with twins or more, including multiple infants or toddlers. You can do this. Yes, alone. If you must do so alone, or just want to, you should give it a try. We’re going to tell you how The Moms go grocery shopping with kids in tow, from twins to quadruplets, with some singletons thrown in for good measure.
This post assumes that you have access to a car, are walking, or are riding a bike. Taking public transportation with multiples is a topic for another day.
Leaving the House
Plan and Pack
As with most things related to caring for babies, grocery shopping with twins or more starts with good planning. Pick a time that works for you and your kids. Do your babies fall asleep in the car and nap well out and about? Consider going shopping during nap time so that they can sleep through the whole thing. Are they happy and social in the morning? Go shopping then. Make a complete shopping list so that you can minimize followup trips required to pick up things that you forgot during your main shopping haul.
Pack your diaper bag with the things you’ll need. The basics usually include things for diaper changes, something to wipe up spills and messes, changes of clothes in case of mess, something for the babies to eat, and something for them to play with. You’ll also need to have a transportation solution at the ready, whether it’s a stroller-carseat system, baby wrap, wagon, or all of the above.
Older kids don’t need all the diaper paraphernalia, but they might need something to keep their hands and minds occupied, like books or toys. A small container of fruit or cereal is a good thing to have on hand for when blood sugar dips and tempers rise. Depending on the ages of your children, you may have traded in your diaper wipes for antibacterial hand gel… although you may find yourself wishing you had wipes, even with school-age kids!
Before you head out the door, make sure that your kids are clean and fed. If they’re just fussy, and you have a constitution that allows you to drive with a fussy child in the car, just move on to loading up. Sometimes you’ll need to drive through the crying to get to your goal.
Don’t forget your shopping bags, cooler or insulated bag, and transportation solution.
If you do make a habit of shopping with your multiples, you’ll need to be prepared to be a minor celebrity. Especially during the first couple of years, when it is obvious that your children are the same age, people will want to stop and talk to you about multiples. Budget extra time for discussion with curious strangers. Arm yourself with standard answers for common questions.
Put your kids in the car last. That way you’re not distracted by their demands while you pack up. Make sure that they’re somewhere safe, like a crib, swing or playpen, while you pack your car with your stroller (or wagon or baby wraps) and diaper bag and other equipment. Janna kept bouncy chairs in the front room and strapped her boys in on the way in and out of the house.
If you’re using bucket-style infant car seats, it may be easiest to load and strap your babies in in the comfort of your home, then install the seats in your car, complete with babies.
If you’re walking or bicycling, the same general approach holds true. Load the kids last.
Out and About
You’ve loaded up and arrived at your grocery shopping destination with your twins. Now what?
If you’ve driven to the store, check to see whether they have designated Customer with Child parking spots. If you can score one, it will likely be near the cart return closest to the main entrance to the store. You can maximize your chances of reasonable parking by shopping at off-peak hours such as weekday mornings, but this isn’t feasible for everyone.
Walking and Biking
Janna and RebeccaD walk almost everywhere. RebeccaD purchases only what she can fit in the undercarriage of the stroller. She hits the store with her boys every couple of days. She uses her double stroller for most errands. Janna walks to the pharmacy, grocery store, post office, thrift store. The workout is a bonus!
Once her boys turned a year old, Janna switched to a trailer behind her bike. This isn’t always possible, of course, if your errand is too far away or the weather is too hot or cold, but it works great for her family most of the time.
Implement Your In-Store Strategy
The Moms have a plethora of ideas for containing and transporting kids at the grocery store. Yetunde has actually written about this in the past on her personal blog. If you’re planning to use a store cart, parking near the cart return can make it easier to snap up a cart without having to stray far from your car.
A common solution for infants is a double car seat/stroller system, such as the Double Snap-N-Go or Graco DuoGlider. MandyE was once able to run three quick errands within an hour thanks to the ease of baby transfer! Where do the groceries go, we hear you clamor. One option is to use the basket under your stroller as your cart. This severely limits how much you can purchase at a time. Another option is to push your stroller with one hand while pulling a store cart behind you with the other. It looks a little crazy, but it works well.
More and more stores are offering shopping carts that seat two or more children. In our experience, such stores include Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and many branches of the Texas grocery store HEB. Sadia found it to be worth driving a few extra miles to go to a store that had two-seater carts standard.
Don’t have any stores nearby with carts that accommodate two seated kids? Let your store manager know; the company may simply be unaware of the demand.
This brings us to another point: “Shop” around and choose stores that work for you. Find places where you can maximize your effort and where you can shop effectively. One-stop shopping is your friend. SarahP typically goes to Costco first, then to Walmart because she can price match there and get all the other odds and ends. Use the grocery store pharmacy. Look for wide aisles. You may find it worthwhile to invest in a cover to keep little fingers off germy cart parts and/or disinfecting wipes to wipe down the cart before transferring your kids.
You can wear one baby and put the other(s) in the shopping cart. Wiley typically wore her twinfant girls, had her toddler son seated in the cart, and had her school-age son walk. The trick to reaching things on low shelves without spilling a baby is to squat. You’ll have thighs of steel, so that’s a benefit of this approach. Note that many car seat manufacturers advise against placing car seats in cart seats the way MandyE demonstrates and many of The Moms do regularly. Try using the cart strap to secure the seat the way you would with the seatbelt in your car.
Get creative. SaraBeth has seen parents bungee two carts together. Sadia has shopped with her kids in a Radioflyer wagon. SarahP keeps one baby in the car seat in the main area of the cart, puts her 2-year-old in the sitting area of the cart and straps the other baby to herself in a Baby Bjorn. The groceries go under the cart and around the seat. It may look like a circus, but it works! Carolyn – Twintrospectives used her stroller as her cart. When she had too much bagged stuff after paying to fit elegantly back under the stroller, she used a couple of mommy hooks to hang bags off other parts of the stroller. Janna used to hang reusable grocery bags from the double stroller handles.
Kids don’t have to be contained. If your kids are old enough to walk and trustworthy enough to be free, invite them to help you push the cart or give them carts of their own. Sadia’s kids still, at age 7, walk between her and the shopping cart, embraced within her arms and “helping” her push. If they wish to walk alongside the cart, they are each assigned a spot on the side of the cart to keep a hand on. They are not permitted to let go without explicit permission. SaraBeth determines which twin goes “free range” based on who has been better at listening that day.
Avoid the store altogether. Shop online. Subscribe to a CSA that delivers to your home. Use a drive-through.
There will be days when your kids will be in rare form, screaming bloody murder, and you’ll wonder how essential food really is. We’ve been there. On balance, though, shopping is doable, often even fun. If you treat it like a fun outing, your kids will have fun too. MandyE and Sadia will talk about making grocery shopping fun and educational in a later post.
Ask for and Accept Help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Janna often asked strangers to hold doors for her. Sadia asks store staff to help her lift things down from tall shelves. Carryout services offered by some grocery stores is golden. If you let the staff member load groceries into your car, it frees you up to load up your kids.
Special Needs Children
Marissa‘s son A was very sick as a newborn and was essentially quarantined until he was 6 months old, by order of his doctor. This meant keeping D in too until he had his 3rd DTaP. Marissa’s husband, mother, and grandmother ran almost all of the errands, since A required extensive care when not hospitalized. We know, we said you could do it, but sometimes it’s best that you don’t run errands with your kids, for their sakes.
Now A is doing much better, but he couldn’t sit in a shopping cart until he was about 14 months old. Marissa wore him most of the time and had D sit in the cart. In addition, A is tube-fed and she does not let that stop them from participating in any activity, even though people are far more likely to stare than when witnessing public breastfeeding. One of Wiley’s daughters needs to drink thickened liquids to prevent aspiration, so they keep individual servings of thickener in their diaper bags now. Due to the aspiration issue, she had to drink pumped milk, so Wiley and her family had to travel with a cooler even though her twin sister could just breastfeed on demand.
Sadia’s daughter’s frontonasal dysplasia does sometimes force her family to contend with awkward comments and questions, but she has a stockpile of canned responses at the ready. She also talked to both her daughters about others’ perceptions and comments, since keeping them out of earshot is not a realistic option.
Higher Order Multiples
Mrslubby‘s husband loves to take her quadruplets and their 4-year-old big sister shopping, if nothing else to prove he can! He loads up two babies in one cart and two babies in another. With their older singleton standing on the end of a cart, he pushes one cart and pulls the other. While Mrslubby cringes at all the looks she gets from strangers with her brood, her husband basks in the acknowledgment of his juggling skills.
At the moment, Marissa is too pregnant with her third baby to wear her son A facing out in a front-carry. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like back-carry much, so she usually only take one kiddo on errands. Once again, her husband does most of the errands, because that’s what works for her family. As we said earlier, asking for help is an important MoM skill, as is accepting help when it’s offered.
Single (or Functionally Single) Parents
Janna and Sadia were both functionally single parents when their twins were very young, thanks to Janna’s husband’s extended work hours and Sadia’s (now ex-)husband’s repeated deployments. They had no alternative but to run errands with their kids, so it never occurred to them that it should be difficult. On the other hand, RachelG and her husband share equally in family tasks such as grocery shopping, so there is no need for either of them to master solo groceries. Do what works for your family’s needs.
If you’re a working single mother like Sadia, chances are that you have very little flexibility in your schedule and no one to watch your kids without prior planning. Work a weekly shopping trip into your routine so that your little ones know to expect it. Consider having a backup supply of canned and frozen goods to carry you through if you hit a week during which you just can’t make it to the store. Moms do occasionally get sick. Cars break down. Roads flood. Don’t be caught without food and toilet paper.
Unloading at Home
Unloading your groceries with young kids around can also take some planning. Your multiples and other kids may be especially demanding on returning to the safe environment of home. As on the way out of the door, make sure that you have a safe place to keep them while you bring your shopping inside.
Consider using a cooler or insulated grocery bag for frozen or refrigerated items. This allows you a bigger window to tend to your kids before you return your attention to the groceries waiting to be put away. If your store has an especially competent bagger, do what you can to get in their checkout line and avoid careless baggers. Alternately, you can oversee the bagging yourself or simply communicate to the checkout staff that you need your things bagged in a particular order. It helps them out if you load groceries in logical groupings while you’re checking out.
Sadia keeps a tote in the trunk of her car to help keep things sorted. Refrigerator items go in the tote, everything else straight into the trunk. When she gets home, she can pick up everything that needs to be put away quickly at once. The rest can wait.
Not Just for Moms
The post has been written about moms going shopping with kids because we’re moms who go shopping with kids. This advice is for everyone else too, though: for the DoMs who do just as much in the way of home and family maintenance as MoMs, for nannies and au pairs who are out and about with the kids, for grandmas and grandpas, whether the grandkids are visiting or are in your permanent care.
Katelyn‘s husband carries one kid on his shoulders. Marissa’s husband wears a Moby like nobody’s business. Just yesterday, Sadia had a lovely conversation with a dad of 9-month-old twins while he wore one baby and had the other lying in the built-in infant seat in the store cart. When she got fussy, dad just scooped her onto his hip. He still had a free hand for the cart. Wiley’s nanny tends to wear one girl, put one in the cart seat, and put her middle boy in the body of the cart while the oldest is at school.
We all find ways to get things done, even if it takes some creativity.
Do you have specific types of errands, family situations, or location-related limitations on which you’d like The Moms’ advice? What grocery store trip tips did we miss?
Since we’re still in the midst of Year One, this is not so much a look back as a look at right now. I’ve thought long and hard about how I could write a post to enlighten others with the wisdom I’ve gained through raising my b/g twins to the age of 10 months.But it turns out that other than the fact I have two babies the same age at the same time, I haven’t had too much adversity to really overcome. We’ve been really lucky. There was a month or two when Husband first went back to work that I struggled with coordinating the babies’ sleeping and eating schedules, but to be perfectly honest I feel fortunate every single day. I look at my chubbas and life is good. My babies were full term 38-weekers, have had no health issues, and are inquisitive normally developing crawler/cruisers.
But, for what it’s worth, there are some things we live by, to keep these babies the healthy and happy (and from wreaking havoc).
This is BY FAR the most important thing when raising young children, in my opinion. I attribute all my children’s great dispositions to regular, undisrupted sleep. We sacrifice a lot to give them extremely rigid times for sleeping.
When our first was a baby, Husband and I had many arguments about this. I always had to take her home at about 5:30/6:00pm for bath/bedtime. This meant I often took her home by myself while he stayed to finish dinner with his family. So we would either take two separate cars or someone would drop him off when they were done. It got so I earned myself the nickname Sleep Nazi from his family.
But I stuck to my guns and continued to insist on what I believe in. He didn’t really “get it” until he experienced some late afternoon meltdowns firsthand with the twins. Now, with clear results as my proof, no one dares contest my methods. Dinners are scheduled at 5pm with the knowledge that we will bail.
It was a challenge getting twin babies on a concurrent schedule, so much that I call those few weeks psychological warfare. But the good thing is that I won, and our whole family is better for it. These babies eat and sleep by the clock. Starting with a daily wake up time: 6:30am. If they wake before that, they know to hang out in their cribs until 6:30 when their older sister is also allowed to get up. Then they’re changed and strapped in the car for the ride to Grandma’s. Bottles are given at 7 when they arrive. On weekends I’ll make french toast or bake some muffins while Daddy dresses them to come sit with us to eat as a family. Nap 8:30-10, meal at 11, nap 12:30-2:15, meal at 2:30, nap 5:45-6:15, bottle 7pm. These times are all very solid, except they’re starting to transition out of that last catnap. Some days they don’t need it, and I just move their bath and bottle up a half hour.
Obviously there are some great advantages to this kind of regularity. Days are predictable for them as well as for me. I know when we can schedule outings, we don’t usually have cranky babies, and all our kids know what is expected of them. All of them are scheduled to take their midday nap at the same time.
However it’s not a foolproof plan. Last summer when our family took a two week trip to Asia, all our schedules were completely thrown off. We discovered that our daughter lacked the ability to adjust quickly. She was pretty miserable for about a month. But that’s a trade off I would easily take for daily predictability. No way we would plan another international trip before the twins are much older anyway.
Independence is a trait I value highly, therefore it shapes a lot of my parenting philosophy. I know “attachment parenting” is trending right now, and many of my friends seem to want to raise their children in that way, but I feel my laissez-faire approach gives my children the self-reliance and self-confidence that they will need early in life, and gives me the peace of mind not to have to worry about them.
My 3.5-year-old rarely throws a tantrum. She will always attempt to solve problems herself first before asking for help. She is fully independent on the potty, can get dressed, does not require assistance going to bed, and always throws her own clothes in the hamper. She is secure in our love for her and has no problems with separation. She’s so self assured I don’t even worry about her being bullied.
This training began when she was a baby, and we are doing the same with her siblings. We don’t jump the second a baby makes a noise. We give them time to try to figure things out. They don’t need to constantly be picked up or held. Our presence is not required for them to go to sleep, or for them to be happy.
Therefore, our 10-month-olds rarely cry. They don’t fuss. If they take a small tumble, they will look to us for reassurance, and then they go right back to playing. When I take them out in their double stroller, they just sit side by side checking things out. They have easy smiles and aren’t afraid of strangers. I am always getting compliments on how well behaved they are.
Luckily our house has the layout to allow us to gate off a playroom for the kids. Space for them to roam and explore. Space to test their limits relatively safely. Space to be confined while Mama does her mama-things.
But the space kids need is much more than physical.
I have a close friend who is expecting her first baby (just one!) in January so she has been picking my brain about what cloth diapers to get, what to register for and how it all works. We cloth diapered our boys starting at about 3 weeks old until they were potty trained around age 2. We did use disposables a few times when traveling, but we estimate we bought fewer than 10 packages of disposable diapers, for twins, for 2 years. (which we almost always bought on sale with coupons or from Amazon Mom Subscribe and save.)
Whenever we would mention we intended to use cloth diapers, everyone thought we were nuts. Some flat out said it, others scoffed and suggested we would soon see the error of our ways. We registered for 40 modern cloth diapers (the one-size, adjustable, velcro kind), hoping friends and family would help chip in for our cloth diapers the way so many shower-planning-strategy sites suggested people would shower you with disposables. Not one single person bought us one single diaper. No problem, we were committed to it, so we bought them ourselves.
Looking back on the infant phase, of all the baby stuff we received as gifts, (including hand-me-downs and purchases) our cloth diapers proved to be the most-used, most-appreciated, absolutely the most bang-for-the-buck baby item. I have written lots on the subject of cloth diapers. But with diapers in a distant rear view mirror I can say that I am absolutely glad we used cloth and would not hesitate to do it again. Sure we did more laundry, but in the scheme of how much laundry two babies generate, it was barely noticeable. It was part of our routine from the start since everything about being parents was new, so too was diaper laundry. We have had so much “essential” baby stuff that we were told we could not, should not live without, that we hardly used. We have cycled through countless thousands of toys, dozens of baby contraptions, endless feeding, bathing, maintaining supplies, but the one thing we absolutely used day in and day out was our cloth diapers. (Plus they are stink in’ adorable. I mean LOOKIT HOW CUTE!)
I won’t lie, I was a little sad when we stopped diapering and attempted to housebreak our children (which may sound barbaric, but so was potty training twin boys!) it meant my babies were no longer babies, and that constant was gone from our lives. We survived ages 0-2 with about 40 diapers, and now they have gone to another family with twin boys who are giving them a second life.
So if you are expecting, or have twin infants, consider cloth. It’s cheaper, (more cost upfront but saves a bundle long term) and you’re not throwing money into the garbage. So if you want to use cloth diapers and your family and friends think you’re insane, know that you’re not alone, but it’s not crazy at all.