By Heather Eckstein, DONA doula
**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API
Being a parent comes with a fair share of challenges and rewards. Being a parent to twins seems to mean twice as many challenges and twice as many rewards! One of the guiding beliefs of API is that every family is unique, with unique needs and resources. I have found this to be completely true.
I practiced Attachment Parenting (AP) before I even knew what the term meant. When my first child was born, it seemed natural to meet his needs in a way that encouraged him to trust me and fostered a greater bond between us. Over time, I found more and more benefits to this style of parenting and knew that my instincts were correct when I wanted to hold my baby and nurture him.
In April 2006, I gave birth to identical twin girls in my bedroom as my older children watched. My other children are both boys and they were ages three and one at the time. I knew that our life was going to change when the twins arrived but really had no idea what daily life would be like for our family. I don’t think anything could have fully prepared me for the next two years.
Easier Than Thought
Immediately after my daughters were born, I was surprised that it was not as difficult as I had anticipated. We quickly found our rhythm, and I was blessed to have two easygoing babies. I spent a great deal of time in bed nursing the babies but was still able to have fun with my sons, as well. My daughters were content to nap in the afternoon shade while my sons played in the backyard. I was able to clean up the house each night after preparing dinner for our family.
In the beginning, my biggest challenge was just feeding and diapering everyone. My oldest son was only in diapers at night but the younger three were in diapers all of the time. We use cloth diapers, so this meant a lot of laundry. I quickly learned to throw in a load of laundry anytime I walked past the washing machine.
Breastfeeding Three, Then Two
Feeding was much easier than laundry, and fortunately, my twins were full-term and had no trouble breastfeeding. I had nursed my toddler through my pregnancy with the twins and so I continued to nurse him after they were born. It was wonderful to nurse the three of them together in those early days, although sometimes I was exhausted.
Shortly after my son turned two, he gently weaned with a little encouragement from me. Night nursing with three children was taking a toll on me, and I found it much easier to nurse only two. I would rotate the twins so that whoever was sleeping closest to me was nursing and, when she finished, I switched her with her sister.
During the day we tandem-nursed a lot to save time. It was so wonderful to watch my daughters as they stared into each other’s eyes while nursing.
A Full Bed
One little bump in the road for our family was our sleeping arrangements. When our daughters were born, our younger son was still nursing at night and co-sleeping. Although he had slept through the night in his own bed before, he began coming into our bed more frequently after his sisters arrived.
Our solution was to attach a co-sleeper to my side of the bed where I could lay one (or both) of the twins so that they would not be sleeping next to a squirmy toddler. My husband slept on the other end of the bed and our toddler had plenty of room in between us. There were plenty of nights when I woke up to find that all four children were snuggled into our bed, and my husband and I were falling off the edges!
Getting Out of the House
Another challenge for me was finding a way to get out with all four children by myself. We live more than 600 miles from our closest family, so having help was just not an option. I wanted to be able to continue our activities but was unsure how I would manage the logistics of four young children.
I found that the double stroller and Mei Tai carrier, and a sling, were lifesavers for me. When the twins were small, I could put both of them in the ring sling and push both boys in the stroller. As the twins grew, I was able to put one in a Mei Tai on my back and one in a Mei Tai on my front. If I needed a break, I could put the twins in the stroller and let one child walk while carrying the other.
AP with Two Babies, a Toddler, and a Preschooler
I will freely admit that one of my biggest hurdles has been meeting the needs of each of my children at the same time. Because I believe strongly in the benefits of AP, it is difficult for me to see my children upset and not be able to comfort them immediately. Having twins means that there are many times when both babies cry at the same time. Add a toddler and preschooler into the mix, and there have definitely been moments when four little people need me all at the same time!
I have had to learn to relax a little and realize that I can’t do everything for everyone at all times. If both babies cry at the same time, I scoop them up and nurse them. If one of my older boys is upset at the same time, I may not be able to scoop him up, too, but I can offer a spot next to me on the couch so he can cuddle with his mama. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t.
There are moments in almost every day when I am overwhelmed by meeting the needs of four young children. Twins are a unique challenge, because you must meet the very similar demands of two children at the same time. If one is hungry, the other probably is hungry, too. If one is teething, the other is likely to be teething, as well. Throw a few other children into the mix, and it is one exciting household!
Just when I thought I had it all together, my twins became mobile. With two little girls running through the house, life became even more interesting! It seems that twins will never run in the same direction. When you chase after them, they split and go in opposite directions so as to confuse the unsuspecting parent. My girls have been far more mischievous than my boys ever were at their age. These girls like to climb everything, and show no fear! I can definitely say that I am more exhausted now than I was with two newborns.
Keeping Priorities Straight
I’ve learned to be flexible with many things since my twin daughters were born. My house is not as clean and organized as it once was in the past. I don’t shower nearly enough and sometimes wear the same clothes for two days in a row. I’ve accepted that there will always be things for me to do around the house, but someday my children will grow up and move away. For now, I would rather take them to a park or cuddle with them in bed and let the housekeeping wait.
Parenting twins has been a learning experience for me from the beginning. Unfortunately, our local Mothers of Multiples club is not very supportive of AP practices. Our local La Leche League group has been a tremendous suppor,t but there are currently no other mothers of multiples in our group. Because raising twins can be much different than raising a singleton, I have struggled to find support from others who understand. Luckily, there are several wonderful books on the subject, and I have found several online resources that are very supportive of my parenting beliefs.
The joys of raising multiples are many. There is something special about two babies who shared a womb and how they learn to relate to each other as babies, toddlers, and children. It never ceases to amaze me when my twins communicate with each other without using words. They can anticipate each other’s wants and needs and it is truly amazing. The hard work of caring for twins is rewarded twofold when I get to hold them both in my lap as they nurse and one of them gently twirls her sister’s hair. I love to watch them give each other hugs and kisses. It melts my heart and restores my patience to make it through another day.
Twins Plus Two…Plus Twins!
At the time this article was published, Heather was expecting her second set of twins.