You never really know what having twins will be like, until you’re living it. And in this interview, twin mom Katie talks about the realities of raising her young fraternal twins, getting onto a good schedule and the importance of asking for help.
Please introduce yourself and your wonderful family.
We are Katie and Shawn. Shawn has a 4-year-old son Mason from a previous relationship, who splits his time 50/50 between our house and his mom’s. The twins are now 6 months old, a boy – Charlie and a girl – Mikaela. They are fraternal twins that were di-di, born at 37.5 weeks.
How did you enter the wild world of multiples?
We weren’t really trying for a baby but we weren’t NOT trying, either. We had talked about kids and felt we were at an age and point in our lives that we would be okay with whatever happened. We found out I was pregnant in August, when I would have been around 3-4 weeks along.
It was at the first ultrasound at 13 weeks where I found out we were having twins. I went over my lunch break and thankfully had no afternoon appointments scheduled because it went a LOT longer than I was expecting! The ultrasound technician said she had to take lots of pictures, and then at the very end she showed me the screen.
She said here is the one, and here is the other. I thought she had meant here is the one picture, here is the other picture. But she repeated herself and emphasized the other ONE. I then saw there were two little figures side by side on the screen. I was in complete shock and still kind of am, and waited until I got home to tell Shawn.
We were excited from the beginning but also very aware of the unique challenges that having twins would bring.
Did you have any concerns in the beginning, when you learned your were having a twin pregnancy?
My mom is an OBGYN, so I am no stranger to the risks of pregnancy in general, let alone a twin pregnancy. I wasn’t as concerned though knowing the twins were di-di.
I tried to just be really optimistic that the babies would be okay, while remaining aware that any twin pregnancy is high-risk.
We were definitely concerned with how we would manage financially, having to buy two of everything at the same time… and that I would be going on maternity leave and my income would decrease.
For my work, I was concerned about my hour long commute in a rural area and how I would manage doing that being pregnant through the winter.
Prior to getting pregnant I had been looking for work closer to home but decided to stay in my job once we found out because of my benefits. I also work in a high-risk environment with patients that can become hostile so I was somewhat concerned for the safety of the babies, especially in the beginning when my co-workers and supervisor were not aware that I was pregnant.
How was your twin pregnancy experience?
I’m sorry to say I am one of those annoying people that say they loved being pregnant. That’s not to say I didn’t have my fair share of discomforts.
I had trouble sleeping, back pain, mood swings, and towards the end it got progressively harder to move around. But I didn’t have a lot of common pregnancy complaints – no swelling, no weird food cravings, barely any heartburn.. I never threw up. I did have some nausea at the beginning but I started eating more in the morning and that got better.
Due to my long commute, a stressful work environment where I’m also doing a lot of sitting down, and the progression of the pregnancy, I got medically released from work 6 weeks before the babies were born.
I used that time to wash all of the clothes, organize the nursery, and do jigsaw puzzles.
In the last two weeks there were some concerns about one of the babies not getting bigger, so I had to stop moving around so much at that time. I was going for bi-weekly ultrasounds at that time.
Baby A (Charlie) was breech about a month before my delivery, and Baby B (Mikaela) was literally all over the place… she once flipped during the ultrasound. I talked with my OB and we tentatively scheduled a C-section for March 31st, but would see if Baby A moved at all at my next ultrasound.
When I went in, he had in fact turned head down. But he hadn’t grown much since the last appointment. So I started having to go in for non-stress tests and additional ultrasounds to measure him.
At my next OB appointment we discussed birth options, but I was always fearful that I would deliver baby A vaginally and need a C-section for baby B. My parents were also taking time off and driving several hours to come up for the birth and so I thought over the options and decided to keep the scheduled C-Section.
We had them on March 31st at 8:30 in the morning and they were born a minute apart.
The section went well but both babies needed to go to the NICU and I didn’t really understand why because I was getting sutured, so that part of it was very stressful.
I got wheeled into the NICU after recovery and got to hold Charlie, but Mikaela had just been hooked up to all of the machines so I only got to touch her foot. I didn’t get to hold her until about 6 hours later and I felt heartbroken that I couldn’t do skin-to-skin with her right away.
How long did your twins stay in the NICU?
We spent 6 days in the NICU.
After the babies were born I had no idea what had really gone on – my OB told me my daughter was “stunned” because I hadn’t gone into labour, but I came to find out later that Charlie was also struggling after birth and they had concerns about infections.
They were on NG feeding tubes and basically just needed some time to learn to feed before they could go home.
I hated them being in the NICU because I had this idea that they were coming home with us they day I was discharged. The carseats and blankets were in the car with their little outfits to wear home. Even though I knew many twins spend time in the NICU (there were two other sets in there with us at the same time) I just didn’t think it would be mine, since all of their tests and ultrasounds had gone so well.
The unit is on the same floor as the postpartum rooms so it was easy to see them. But when I was discharged I took the 30 minute trip back home, without them.
That was the hardest night of my life. I was trying to balance my own recovery and dire need for sleep, knowing that the twins were in the most capable hands possible, with this devastating feeling of being separated from two people I’ve spent the past 9 months with every single second, being a terrible mom for leaving the babies alone, in separate rooms, when I could be there if I really mustered up the strength.
Shawn went back to work while they were in the NICU because we had no idea how long they would be admitted. So for the rest of the week, I’d take care of the dog in the morning, pack up a backpack and spend all day in the hospital with the twins. I had the option to spend the night there, but it’s a pullout chair and I was trying to recover from a C-section.
The feeding schedule there was 2:30, 5:30, 8:30, 11:30, repeat. So I would leave the house at 7:45, park (if your twins are in the NICU ask about hospital parking passes if they are available! We saved a ton of money getting a weekly pass), get a large oatmeal and coffee and hobble up to the unit for the 8:30 feeding.
I’d watch Netflix and pump and sometimes get visitors that would help me feed them. I would go home around 4, wait for Shawn to get home from work and go back to the hospital with him to do the 8:30PM feeding.
The nurses were fantastic with letting me make decisions on when and how to feed them, and in which order. They helped me with breastfeeding, showed me how to bathe them, burp them… it was basically a baby boot camp with the friendliest most supportive drill sergeants you could ask for.
We were discharged after they were able to go without the feeding tubes, and maintained the same feeding schedule when we got home.
Looking back I am actually thankful for the time we had in the NICU because I learned so much and we started on a great schedule.
Looking back I am actually thankful for the time we had in the NICU because I learned so much and we started on a great schedule. Although it was emotionally draining, I knew I would miss having 24-hour care to support me and I did miss it immensely after about a week at home on my own with them!
If you had to describe your experience of the early months, in one word, what would it be?
They were hard. There’s no way of getting around that.
As a mom I was emotionally and physically exhausted, my body was weak and I was in pain.
Shawn went straight back to work and so he never really got a break because I would need his help as soon as he got home.
During the day I was mostly on my own. My mom came and stayed with me for a few days at the end of the first month, and Shawn’s family is close by but I struggled to ask them for help.
The first few weeks are essentially a never-ending cycle of feeding, pumping, changing diapers, and sleeping. The babies were eating every 3 hours (2:30, 5:30, 8:30, 11:30) and by myself, I could feed them in an hour. I would nurse one, bottle feed, then bottle feed the other with formula/pumped milk. Then I would have to pump and so really I’d have an hour and half until the next feeding, where I would try to sleep, shower, cook dinner, clean, let the dog out, etc.
After the 8:30PM feeding I would go to sleep and Shawn would do the11:30 on his own, then I would take over from 2:00 onward. That was the only way we could both get a decent chunk of sleep in.
The downside was that we didn’t get much time together.
But I think that was the key to our survival at the beginning.
I felt like a Zombie most of the time, but I did try to get out and take them for walks, run some errands, and fit in time for myself. They were born in the spring so I could sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and peace and quiet while they were napping.
I think with twins I just had to accept that when I was on my own I couldn’t always help both at the same time. I had to be okay that one would be crying in the other room while I was changing the other. You do the best you can and eventually it gets easier.
What have been your biggest challenges with raising twins so far?
It has definitely been a challenge to maintain a healthy relationship between Shawn and I.
It’s hard to be your best when you’re both exhausted and stressed. It’s hard to make time for each other especially having another child that is busy with activities. Resentment can build quickly with different roles within the house and the relationship. For me I find it challenging for big outings, family parties, long medical appointments, etc. It’s draining and if the babies get thrown off their schedule it can cause a ripple effect.
I also can find it challenging running errands by myself. There are no shopping carts in my area that accommodate babies that can’t sit upright yet, so going with two carseats or the stroller can be hard.
People stop to ask you a million questions, which is nice sometimes but can also be super annoying. Mostly because they are the same questions over and over again.
I have probably been asked a hundred times now if my boy/girl twins are identical.
I have probably been asked a hundred times now if my boy/girl twins (that don’t even look alike) are identical. I say back to them in my head, “everything but the penis!” but really just respond with a simple no.
What advice would you have for other parents who are expecting multiples?
I don’t know of any other way we would function aside from them both being on the same schedule, so I would definitely advise anyone to do that from the get-go.
I would also advise parents to not be afraid to ask for help – maybe even talk with family and friends beforehand to see what people are really willing to do to help out. It doesn’t need to be babysitting. It can be meals, housework, even just bringing over a coffee.
I wish I would have talked with friends and family before the babies were born and said, “I know myself and that I will say I’m fine and don’t need help, even if I do. Please still offer me help or insist on it”. I have a hard time asking for help and found it challenging at times to reach out to people unless they were offering it to me.
Lastly, I think you just have to accept that you cannot make both babies happy at the same time all of the time, especially if one parent is on his or her own. I just tune out the crying sometimes and know I am doing the best that I can.
When I get super overwhelmed and start feeling angry towards the babies, I know I need to take a break. I go outside and shut the door for a few minutes until I feel calm again.
If parents get to that point the best thing to do is just make sure the babies are in a safe place – crib, swing, etc and walk away. Crying will not hurt them and you will be doing far better as a parent to leave and come back in a more calm state.
Looking back, how important is it to seek support from other parents of multiples?
I think it’s absolutely necessary to connect with parents of multiples.
Like many of life’s challenges it’s hard to have an understanding of how difficult it can be going through this unless you’ve walked that path yourself. I get a lot of “I can’t imagine how hard that must be”, and I really don’t think anyone can.
Talking with other POM’s (parents of multiples) is helpful because they CAN imagine how hard it must be.
Also, there are a lot of things about parenting especially with newborns that are totally different than a singleton. Keeping them on the same schedule, their interactions with each other, going through developmental stages at the same (or sometimes different!) times – other parents don’t have to consider those factors, even when they have children close in age.
It’s so nice to be able to share my struggles and ask questions of people that you know can relate to what you’re going through.
What’s the best thing about your life with multiples?
Watching them interact with each other.
For the first few months, you don’t see them noticing each other too much. But there was a time I saw them playing and cooing at each other that it really dawned on me… that while we as parents are developing a relationship with the twins, they are developing a special relationship with each other.
Katie blogs about her life with twins at baggyeyedsleepdeprived.com
Family photo: Delray Dawn Photography