Expecting Multiples? A Twin Mama Tells it Straight!
If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me about their best friends sister's neighbour's twins, I would have a fair amount of money stashed in the bank. Honestly, twins are celebrities. Everyone has a story to tell you, and everyone wants to know all about how they were conceived (not a joke). Did you birth them naturally, and do twins run in your family? I've had a little old lady bypass the cute newborn at the café to stare at my twins' faces and coo over them, as well as cough on them — what a lovely old lady.
There is so much to having twins that go unmentioned, and you're likely going into it not knowing what to expect. Unfortunately, your friends will not be the best source of knowledge when you find out you're pregnant with twins unless they to have had them. Google also rarely has the answers, trust me; I spent plenty of time on there.
I'm a first-time mum, and my first are twins. Conceived naturally, if you were wondering. Also, not even trying, in case you were wondering. We were fortunate. I've learnt a lot along the way, and I want to share it with you because I know that you are scared and that this twin journey feels lonely. But we've got you, the whole multiple community and me.
As an expecting twin Mama or Dad, I highly suggest you do the classes! Join the multiple birth community, make friends with all the other twin parents you can. They are literally your blood now! No one, and I mean no one, gets it like a multi-family. From the pregnancy, to the birth, and to everything that comes after. We ummed and we ahhhed about joining in on all of these groups, thinking that we didn't need the support. We were wrong. Some of our most wonderful friendships have come out of this community because they get it. And it isn't just the friends you gain from it. It's sitting on the Facebook forum at 2 am asking if something is normal and getting the answers you need. It's saying hey, I'm not coping and having a friendly hand reach out. It's having your babies in NICU and having complete strangers stock your freezer with meals to get you through. If I haven't convinced you yet that you NEED this community in your life, there are discounts on baby formula. Seek out your people!
Finding out your pregnant with twins might come as a little bit of a shock. But surely you thought something was up? After all your nausea and morning sickness has been horrendous right? Multi mamas experience hard and fast pregnancy-related symptoms thanks to higher levels of hormones in the body. And for me, nausea was severe, and for what felt like the entire pregnancy — your body aches. Your shoes don't fit after a few weeks, and you can't put them on either. I know this sounds like a normal pregnancy, but it's not. These things happen so much quicker because you're growing two babies. And it feels that much harder for you because it is. And this is why your friends with one baby can't relate. I do not deny that pregnancy is hard, but with two, it is just that little bit harder.
There were always things I expected to experience when I was pregnant, like nausea that would subside after the first trimester or the cravings for all the weird and wacky foods. I was genuinely excited for pickles dipped in ice cream. What I didn't expect was the insane hunger at all hours of the day that felt almost uncontrollable. I would be up at 3 am in the kitchen most days making vegemite and cheese toasties. Enjoyable at the time, but I am paying for it now. I didn't expect the aforementioned nausea that seemed to last for 24 hours a day, every day. I didn't expect to not be able to buy cute maternity clothes because nothing fit by the time I was 12 weeks pregnant. But that's what it's like for a multi mama. Hot tip: LuluLemon yoga tights in matte black can totally pass as business attire and are worth every cent.
So aside from feeling like a hot mess, there are a few surprises along the way with carrying twins. You'll very likely be sent for a dating scan to check how far along you are. The sonographer will tell you there are two of them. Two what? Two babies, she says. Well, that was a surprise. This is your first ultrasound, and it's so exciting. But by the time this pregnancy is over, you will have had many, many more. Because twins are at a much higher risk than a singleton (one baby), you have a lot of ultrasounds scheduled in. But then on top of that, there is a good chance that one, if not both of your babies won't cooperate when they're trying to get all the images they need. So you'll be back later that week to follow up. By the time you make it past the 25-week mark, your scans are happening nearly every month, and by the end of it every 1 to 2 weeks. It's a lot but just think of it as a chance to put your feet up and see your babies.
Multi mamas, unfortunately, there is a very real chance your babies will come early. Multiple births are risky and can be complicated. Pack your hospital bag and put it by the door, from 25 weeks. No, it's not being dramatic, as one of my friends 'politely' stated to me (mine were born at 27 weeks, FYI). You're being prepared. And when you pack that bag, just put your stuff in there. If your babies come that early and require a NICU or special care stay then the hospital will provide your baby with everything they need. Having any baby come before they are ready is one of the scariest things, but make peace with the fact that it could happen, and know where to go and who to call. It's scary, it really is.
Trust me when I say the NICU and special care doctors and nurses are the most incredible people you will ever have the pleasure of knowing, and they will take the absolute best care of your babies. I am a NICU mama. My twins spent 11 weeks in the hospital after they were born. They went from NICU to SCBU, back to NICU, back to SCBU, they were transferred to another hospital, and finally, we took them home.
Those 11 weeks were the hardest we have ever been through. But we did it, and if your babies come early, know that you can do it too. Be prepared for this. Even if you make it to term, 37 weeks for twins, the reality is your babies will likely still require a hospital stay and you may be going home without them, even for a few days. Café food gets expensive, pack your lunch. Parking gets expensive, find out if there is discounted parking available for you. The hospital is always busy, and at times the nurseries feel suffocating. Escape when you need to and don't feel guilty for not being there around the clock. If it's an option for you, you can go back to work during this time, I did. Contact the required government departments and find out what is possible. Having preemie babies is an experience that changes you, but when you take your babies home, it's incredible.
The best advice I can give you is that whatever your plan is, throw it out the window. I didn't go into my pregnancy with any plan, mainly because I had no idea what to expect. But there is a good chance that whatever you think will happen won't happen. I always thought I'd go the drug-free route, purely because I couldn't stand the thought of having an epidural. When I read the hospital brochure, it said that for multiple births, epidurals were mandatory. And that was that. Would I have a natural birth? Would it be a C-section? When should I tell my family to arrange their interstate travel for? It is all a big unknown.
When I talk to expecting multi mamas I tell them, try not to plan it, which is hard. But you have to expect the unexpected. If you're anything like me, an impatient planner, then this will be torturous. But in the end, however it happens will be the right way.
And while we are talking about expecting the unexpected, don't beat yourself up if you can't breastfeed. This topic is widely discussed amongst the multi-community. While breast is always said to be best, fed is best. I was not able to breastfeed. When my girls were born at 27 weeks, and six days, I spent two months expressing 8 to 10 times per day before we could even attempt to breastfeed. By the time it rolled around, it was all too much, and my anxiety about the situation took over. I managed to give the twin's breast milk for nearly four months, and for that, I am thankful. But my supply was always low, and in the end, we moved to formula. If this happens to you do not beat yourself up, you have not failed!
And then when it does come time to feed your babies a Twin-Z pillow will be your best friend. It makes feeding two a dream. If you're bottle-feeding, you can also use bouncers. And, if you do bottle-feed or formula feed, just because they are twins does not mean they like the same things. Our girls had different bottles at one point, and still to this day have different formulas. An initial on the bottom of each bottle makes it easy not to mix the bottles up if this is the case for you.
While this tip is not twin specific, it's certainly one I 100% advocate for multi parents. Stick to a routine. When we had our multiple birth class before the girls were born, the coordinator told us that if one twin wakes up to feed, as hard as it is, you wake the other one up to feed. The worst thing for you is having one baby wake up to be fed and then going back to sleep to then have the other one wake 30 minutes later, and you getting little to no sleep. What you do for one you do for the other. My husband and I woke together to feed the girls throughout the night. Our situation was a little different, but by the time we got the girls home they were feeding every 3 hours, we got lucky, as I've been told most babies feed every 2 hours. After a month or so we moved to every 4 hours, and from there we let them sleep through the night. We have stuck to a routine from the very first day that we got them home, and our baby's sleep for 12 to 13 hours every night with little to no wake-ups. People ask us how we cope with two babies, and we cope by sticking to our routine, no matter where we are the girls are always fed and in bed by 6 pm.
One of the midwives told us that baby's cry when something is wrong, and it is your job to figure out what that is. Are they hungry, do they need a nappy change, do they need to burp, are they tired? And when you've covered off that list, is there something else that is upsetting them, are they sick or teething? Trust your gut; you have two little humans who you know better than anyone. If something isn't right, then say something!
A few extra tips -
- Don't buy two of everything, besides the obvious cots etc. We found that people not only love to give you their old baby stuff, but if you have twins, then strangers love to give you their old baby stuff. We have bags of clothes in the cupboard to last the girls until they are two years old. Get the necessities but everything else you can pick up, as you need it.
- If you have identical twins, then you'll need an aid to tell them apart. Some people like to use non-toxic nail polish rather than bracelets, which can be expensive and not recommended for young babies. Ours have different coloured hair, we got lucky.
- Don't waste your money on the ridiculous items that Instagram influencers claim as the best baby product/baby bag EVER. If they don't have twins, then their recommendation is likely not going to work for you. I fell for this and spent a ridiculous amount of money on my now obsolete baby bag, and then ended up buying an amazing backpack off e-bay for $30, as per a recommendation from another twin mama.
- During your hospital stay or your babies stay, participate. Ask every question you can think of; ask to be a part of the care routine. That way, when it is time to take them home, you will be comfortable. By the time we left, we felt like we were trained midwives, my husband was even mistaken for a Doctor. If they're premmie babies, then it is certainly overwhelming to handle them when they're so small, but practice is essential!
- Co-parenting is also essential. Yes, this might not feel possible if your partner is working. But when the two of you are home, you need to find a way to make the routine work for you. It's hard enough for one person to be expected to do the work when it's one baby - when it's two babies, it's impossible. Each person deserves to have help and also to have their downtime. A pat on the back to those parents who do this on their own.
- When you do finally get a chance to have someone babysit for you, make sure they know the routine and schedule of your babies. We have left ours for the day with the baby bag and no instructions and returned home to little monsters. Lesson learnt.
- Pre-empt your baby's next move. We know the signs before the girls need a bottle or a nap, and this has saved us from a few meltdowns when we are out and about, and at home too.
- Depending on current conditions, using online ordering and click and collect for your food shopping is a godsend. We often place our order the night before, and my husband picks it up the next day when he is out for work.
- If you're out on your own and need to fill up the car then locating your nearest petrol station that allows you to pay at the bowser is also a great tip, no need to unload the kids unnecessarily.
Everyone thinks twins are hard work, and they are. But it's a different kind of hard. It's balancing babies while trying to make bottles, picking which baby to feed and deciding which one is screaming the loudest or is annoying you the most; it's settling them both in their cots on other sides of the room and trying to be in two places at once. But being a parent to twins is incredible.
The first time our girls looked at each other and recognised the other one and laughed was magical. And when one of them is upset, the other helps to soothe them or cries in sympathy. They don't need you to play with them all day long, that's what their best friend is for.
They discover new things together; they laugh and smile and cry together. They wake up chatting to one another; we believe they're telling the other about their dreams. So while everyone who doesn't have twins will tell you they don't know how you do it or sarcastically wish you luck, just know that you can do it and there's a whole community out there who has your back. And trust me on the celebrity thing, you'll find this out soon enough, and the novelty of it wears thin really quickly.