Moms who have survived the first 12 months with twins share their best advice.
Nine weeks pregnant, Sarah Wilson felt calm heading into her ultrasound appointment. She was looking forward to giving her four-year-old daughter Madelyn a playmate. What Wilson hadn’t prepared for, however, was the doctor’s ultrasound discovery of not just one heartbeat, but two!
Shocked by the news she would be having twins, Wilson glanced at her partner, Adam, who looked as if he might pass out. Her eyes immediately welled with tears and a flood of questions swept through her mind. “We live in a two bedroom bungalow. We drive a Honda Civic. Where are we going to put these kids? How are we going to afford this?”
Despite her immediate worries, Wilson happily gave birth to healthy fraternal twins, Claire and Jack, joining a growing number of Canadian parents with multiples. According to Multiple Births Canada, more than 6,000 sets of twins are born each year, a number that has increased dramatically over the last two decades.
Discovering that you are having twins forces you to quickly rethink everything from pregnancy and childbirth to home life and financials. “You need to be organized sooner than a typical delivery, says Beckie Evans, program coordinator at Peterborough Family Resource Centre (PFRC). “Make sure you have lots of supplies on hand. Sit down with your partner and talk about the life and couple transitions ahead of you. Try to problem solve some strategies to deal with those things. During those first few weeks everyone’s emotions are high, so it’s important to have those discussions prior to delivery.”
Parents of multiples, especially first-time parents, are more likely to experience feelings of isolation, marital stress, financial difficulties and illness, according to Multiple Births Canada, so it’s important to develop a plan to help deal with those challenges.
Like most parents who find out they’re expecting twins, Amanda Rudnicki has lots of questions about the process. She worries about not having the same experience she did with her first child, Ben, who is now two years old. “I started questioning how I will nurse the twins at the same time, how will I pick them up at the same time. Do they sleep at the same time? Lots and lots of questions,” says Rudnicki.
To help address some of her concerns, we chatted with our expert panel of mothers who provided us with some tips and tools for parents expecting multiples.
Time is of the essence for most moms. But that’s especially true for moms of twins. Figuring out a solid sleep and feeding schedule is critical for a family’s mental and physical wellbeing. “If one twin wakes up, wake the other one up. If one twin is hungry, feed them both,” says Leisse Wilcox, mother of identical twin girls, Clara and Grey. “If you feed at the same time, they digest and get sleepy at the same time.”
And don’t forget to develop routines for yourself, says Wilcox. She recalls spending days in her track pants, running through the sleep and feeding routine. “Don’t do that,” she says. “Get dressed every day. Have a good cup of coffee. Brush your teeth.”
If you’re a parent who is used to tackling everything on your own, such as household chores, child-care and cooking, you need to change your expectations about what you can get done during the day, says Candace Pickering, mother of 7 year-old fraternal twin boys. “Break it down to simpler tasks. Do your laundry one day, vacuum another day.”
While the average family with twins spends $7,000 more in the first year than parents of singletons do, according to Multiple Births Canada, there are lots of ways to cut costs.
In place of gifts at her baby shower, Wilcox asked guests to bring frozen food. “It was one of the best things we did,” she says. “Our freezer was stocked, and we didn’t have to cook for the first three months after the babies were born.”
“Pinterest became my best friend,” says Sarah Wilson, who spends a day each week preparing food she can freeze and use for seven days. “I buy organic food from Costco and make 30 jars worth of baby food using recipes I find on the Internet.”
When it comes to baby gear, it’s not true that you have to buy two of everything when you have twins, say our expert moms. Pickering gives an example. For the first seven months of their lives, twins Alexander and Andrew shared the same crib, sleeping width-wise, side by side. Twins can also share playpens and toy-sets during their infancy.
However, there are a few essential investments. Pickering recommends having a “pack and play” playpen big enough for twins, two high chairs, a good double stroller, and a breastfeeding pillow designed to help mothers nurse twins simultaneously.
Parents of twins should also take advantage of local or regional rummage sales for purchasing twin gear, including strollers, bikes, toys and clothes.
A key antidote to juggling the stresses of being a parent of twins is figuring out a reliable support system, says PRFC’s Beckie Evans. “Figure out which friends, family members and health care professionals are close by, and form your support system.”
Evans also suggests joining a “parents of multiples” group to connect with other families and help normalize your new lifestyle. These groups are available through Ontario Early Years Centres and online.
After processing the news of her twin pregnancy, Wilcox immediately began forming her network of support. She sent a mass email to friends and families announcing her news and asking for advice and reassurance. The response Wilcox received was gratifying. Her inbox was filled with offers of help and messages reassuring her that she could handle and thrive with the twins.
If there is one common concern among moms of twins, it’s that their other children are not neglected. “I want to make sure Ben continues to get attention once the twins are born,” says Rudnicki, who is due in August. “I want to make sure he’s still engaged and gets enough mommy time.”
Wilson carves out time with Madelyn by taking her to gymnastics and swimming lessons without the twins. “My eyes are on her so that she gets that one-on-one attention,” she says.
Leisse and Andrew Wilcox came up with an innovative way to show daughter Mia that she was valued and help her bond with the twins. They crafted a kitchen playset and presented it to Mia as a gift from her little sisters. Then they set up a cushy dog bed, big enough for both twins, beside the playset. It was a huge success, says Wilcox. The twins would hold hands and cuddle, and Mia would bring them stuffed animals and blankets to keep them warm.
Another relationship that needs tending is with your spouse. The physical and mental demands that come with taking care of three young children took a toll on her relationship with Andrew, admits Wilcox. “It’s hard. There just isn’t enough time. I was splitting myself into three or four people to try and take care of everybody,” she explains.
“The kids are the centre of our world; our life functions around their developmental needs. However, our relationship needs to be put on par with that,” says Wilcox, who now makes sure to allot a night for just her and her husband once in a while.
Double the joy
Yes, having twins is hard. It means double the diapers, double the feeding, and double the tears. But it also means double the joy, double the milestones, and double the fun, say our panel of moms.
“The twins have brought so much love and joy to all of us,” says Wilson. “ When you go into their room and they both stare at you and smile, it’s amazing.” She suggests “documenting as much as you can, especially in the early days, when each day is at risk of blurring into the next.”
While it is important to nurture the separate interests of your twins, and allow them to become two distinct individuals, Pickering says situations are often made emotionally easier knowing the twins have each other. “The first day you drop them off at day care or school or swimming lessons, they’re never alone. That’s given me a lot of comfort especially for those really early experiences.”
Lastly, as a parent, recognize your strength, and be empowered by the fact that you are capable.
“Having twins put me so far outside my comfort zone I learned to relax, to be more confident and more accepting,” says Wilcox. “I recognized how capable I was.” As a result, she began to pursue her passion for writing. “I think that’s part of the reason the twins were sent to me – to blow up my world, in a good way.”
About Multiple Births Canada
Multiple Births Canada is the only national support organization for multiple-birth families and individuals in Canada. It provides support networks, hundreds of web links for all aspects of baby and child care, as well as education, research, and advocacy. www.multiplebirthscanada.org