I spent the night of September 15 with tears streaming down my face. I was holding our last baby — MY last baby — on the eve of her first birthday. In addition to the usual “oh-my-gosh-my-baby-is-getting-older-where-has-the-time-gone” feelings, I was also feeling something that I think most mothers of almost-one-year-olds do not feel.
I was angry. And I felt betrayed. No one told me it would be like this.
I am the type of person who truly believes that the saying, “Fail to plan, plan to fail,” is 1,000-percent correct.
If you do your homework, cross your t’s, dot you i’s, gather wisdom from others who have gone before you, think through ALL possibly insane scenarios (and create an action plan for each), think through the day and pack everything each child might need and overall be organized enough, then it will all work. Things will run smoothly, you can embrace the joy in situations, make happy memories, capture said happy memories in photos, reduce fighting (marital and otherwise), and HAVE FUN! In short, preparation = success.
When a startled ultrasound tech showed us two perfect little circles instead of one at 21 weeks, I jumped full-on into preparation mode. I had done all of those things. I had prepared my pants off: I had read books, blogs, friended many other moms who had done what we were going to do. Made lists, checked off items one by one. I had been brave and insisted on true change where it was needed. I had forced my husband to sell a car he loved, for goodness sake. I HAD DONE THE WORK.
And yet, here I was. Holding this baby — this almost-one-year-old — and I was a wreck. Because I didn’t know what else to do with all the “feels” that night, I wrote some of them down. Through the tears, I wrote a letter to the universe, to God, to my sweet baby girls. In that letter I wrote,
“If I am honest, most of the time I felt like I was failing. I lived in fear of you crying, of me crying, of my marriage breaking, of not making enough milk, that I wasn’t trying hard enough to make enough milk, that I was missing everything I loved about babies, that I was missing everything I loved about my son, about my husband, about myself, about this life. That I was missing all the good. Missing it because I was terrified. I did not, and do not, know how to BE enough for the miracles I received. And every day I was surrounded by the fear that I. was. not. enough. God. I am only one, and I feel so alone, and I cannot do this. I am not enough. Not enough. Not enough.”
So why? Why was I sitting with this soon to be one-year-old little girl in my arms feeling with every inch of my being that I had failed? Where had I gone wrong? Where should I have worked harder? Done more? Been a better mother?
If you are mom of multiples-to-be (or new mom of multiples), or your friend/sister/co-worker is having multiples, or really just a baby in general, I offer these words:
I wish for you a different reality than the one I had, and I wish for you less fear.
Don’t get me wrong — I think parenting IS a fearful endeavor and that sometimes that fear is healthy and helps us to find our own convictions and true north. However, a year of fear is more than anyone needs, and far more than is healthy.
What No One Tells You about Twins and How to Survive the First Year (with Any Baby):
1. You are not alone… but in all honesty, people have no idea.
Being a MOM (mom of multiples) earns you a badge of honor only other MOM’s will ever truly understand. I think the same is true of having a single baby — you just can’t really GET IT until you have one. I say this not in a pretentious or condescending way — motherhood in ALL aspects is hard, and as moms we all need to support and lift one another up whenever possible. But if you have more than one baby, you need to know that no one will truly understand what keeping two tiny humans alive at the same time means unless they also have lived through it.
Please find a MOM’s network. As many as possible. Befriend other MOM’s, and do not be afraid to reach out to them. They will understand. They will make you feel better when the rest of the world makes you feel nuts, or when being at home with TWO BABIES is making you nuts. They will serve as a lifeline when you just really, really cannot do it anymore. When your mom, husband, best friend, neighbor, siblings, and NO ONE ELSE understands. In short, they will give you hope and keep you sane.
For the rest of my life I will let ANY new mom of twins know that she is more than welcome to call me at any time of day or night to talk, because there is not enough support in the world in those early days/weeks/months.
You are not alone. Sometimes it will feel that way, though, and the larger your network is, the more it will help.
2. Forget the village, you need a SUBURB.
If your twins are not your first babies, then this one really is for you. Remember when you had your single baby and you needed help? Friends came over with meals, held the baby while you showered, your significant other “helped out” over night, maybe a family member came and stayed a few days or a week. There were rough times, times when you just felt like you really needed a friend, support system, someone who understood, more time, energy, money, basically more of everything.
I’m going to be honest. That experience in no way prepared you to have twins. Seriously. Now, you truly need more than a village. You need a loving, caring, supporting, as-big-as-you-can-possibly-get-it army of people who will help you.
If you have a hard time asking for help or saying yes when people offer it, it is now your personal mission to overcome these issues. Right now. You cannot do this alone, and you will need to be okay with asking for the help you need because most people just will not have the capacity to understand what you are going through (see #1).
When I found out that I was having twins, my mom said, “Honey, you need to find a church.” We just hadn’t gotten around to formally “choosing” a church, but that is the perfect example of building your super-village. Reach out, reach out, reach out.
As crazy as it sounds now, I honestly think simply making a list of your suburb — of all of the people who love and support you — is an awesome idea and will help you feel less alone during the really tough times. (Plus, there will be many, many moments where you are so overwhelmed and exhausted that your brain will not work. Having something in writing will save you from trying to think.)
3. YOU. ARE. AMAZING. And important.
This is a hard one to live for any mother, much less one who is tasked with trying to keep a tiny person (or persons) happy and thriving, but I really, really wish I would have been kinder to myself during so much of the first year.
I also wish I would have informed the world around me that although I was now mothering 99-percent of the time, I deserved the other 1-percent to do something nice for ME. (In case you’re wondering, there are 1440 minutes in a day, so about 15 minutes is 1-percent of each day.)
If I were to do this all over again, I would make a sign, cheesy at it may be, that says, “You are amazing, and you enough.” I would put it on the refrigerator. I would say it to myself 50, 100, 1,000 times a day. “You are amazing, and you are enough.” It is true. Every mom is amazing, but raising multiples requires an additional “superhero” level of existence, and it’s something to be proud of.
Again, cheesy though it may be, I would also make a list of things I can do for myself:
- cappuccino at a real coffee shop,
- bake muffins,
- peppermint lotion and fuzzy socks for my feet,
- painting my nails,
- bath with candles, etc.
Insist on having your own time. Every day. You deserve it, you are worth it, and it will make you a better superhero.
4. It’s okay. And it’s not your fault.
Our culture likes to emphasize the importance of “taking responsibility” for things, people, actions, etc. Whether or not you agree with the fundamental principles, I think we can all agree that as moms we tend to take too much responsibility for things that really just aren’t our crosses to bear. With twins, this has never been more true.
A culture of non-judgment takes some practice, but if you (and especially you and your partner) are going to survive the near-impossible feat of raising two babies simultaneously, you need to get comfortable with it.
- Non-judgment means that things at any given moment may not be going all that great. It’s okay.
- It means that you will at many points have to put down a crying baby for some reason. It’s okay. The baby will also be okay.
- It means that you may not recognize your house for at least a year, because it resembles complete and utter chaos. It’s okay. (Side note: I also wish I would have gotten rid of half my stuff before having the babies — that is truly somewhere I could have prepared better. If you are in a purge-y mood at any point during your pregnancy, my advice is that you seize that feeling and go crazy with it.)
- It means you and your family will eat the most (previously) unimaginable things for dinner. A lot. In fact, “dinner” may just disappear all together. Totally okay.
- It means that there will be times you truly, in your heart, wish you didn’t have twins. You will love them so much it hurts, but you will also think two babies is too many babies. You will think how much easier your life would be if you just had one. Also okay, and totally does not make you a bad mother. It simply makes you totally overwhelmed — and that’s okay. You will absolutely know, in your heart and in every cell in your body, that this is the hardest thing you have ever done. You will cry with your babies, and you will feel like you’re failing, drowning, suffocating, losing your mind. It’s okay, and you are not (although, if AT ALL possible, this is THE time to take your 1-percent).
You will resent your partner (okay, and the world in general) because he slept two more minutes than you did, or got to go do something fun out of the house (like go to Target), or watch TV, or do basically anything. You will think unkind, critical thoughts and catch yourself being overly emotional, unfair, and — okay, just down right crazy. It’s okay, Mama. (And, hugs — those are hard moments.)
Finally, what I would say to myself (and do) during that first year if I could go back:
It is okay. This life, and these two beautiful, bright lives that are your twins, are bigger than you are — and bigger than this moment. Find the joy. Find the joy, find the joy, find the joy. If you cannot, find a less critical voice. It is okay, and it is not your fault. If your babies are truly what’s important to you then let the rest go. It is okay to feel what you are feeling. It is okay to not want to talk to strangers about your babies. It is okay to feel the fear and stress and struggle and pain, but it is also okay to let that go. To choose to simply stop for the next five minutes and gaze at your baby. Drink in your babies, snuggle them, and know that they WILL BE OKAY.
It is also okay to call ANYONE on your village list and tell them you need them to take the babies. Or that you need to leave. It is okay to still love your partner without feeling like you are in love with him right now. It is okay if the stress of multiples does not bring you closer like you think it should. It is also important to realize that your partner is in the same boat as you are, and being critical does not help the situation. Telling him that he is an amazing parent, and that you know he is really struggling too would do so much for him.
It is okay to acknowledge that what you are doing is really, really hard, and that some days you don’t like yourself or even know who YOU are anymore, because you’re too tired, hungry, worn down, stressed out, and lost to recognize the good around you.
IT. IS. OKAY. And it will get better. The thing about a journey is that we move through it. Move forward, move to a new place. All the memories, giggles, beautiful moments, and gazes from these tiny people whom love you more than anything are INSIDE you. It is okay if you don’t “remember” anything, because they are part of you. Part of your story, your actual being, and they will never leave you.
I do think that keeping a gratitude journal would have helped me find more moments of joy. Don’t get me wrong, I truly think no matter who you are or what you do there will be dark days, but taking 30 seconds a day to focus on something positive would have been a good idea.
I also wish I would have taken a photo of the babies every day. Together is fine, but I wish I would have photographed them separately each day. As they get older, I feel a fierce determination to preserve their individual identities, and as part of that I wish they had more of their individual “stories” documented. I know it seems impossible that you wouldn’t have time to take TWO photos every day, but seriously, there are days where it’s a struggle.
My letter to the girls, written on their 365th day of life, ends this way:
“So, beautiful, loving, perfect girl — for your birthday I choose a different path. I choose the path of believing I AM enough, that I CAN do this, love you enough, love your sister and brother enough. Make time and energy for your dad, whom I also love so much. I choose to let my dreams grow WITH yours, and I choose to find joy. Where there has been fear, desperation, and uncertainty, now let there be giggles, peace, and light. I have wrestled with these fears, doubts, and insecurities enough. Tonight, as I put you to bed for the last time as my last baby, so, too, I lay the fear to rest.”