My babies were three days old when my husband offered to get take-out from one of our favorite restaurants. I said, “Yes,” just as I would have before the girls were born. But as soon as he left, I realized this was my first time alone with my twins. In the small, silent room, I whispered to them, “Okay girls. It’s just you and me. Be good for mommy.”
Everything was quiet for a while, until one started crying. I picked her up and rocked slowly side to side. Just when she calmed, the other started crying. That got the first one crying again, this time louder and more distressed. I had one baby crying in my arms and the other crying in a bassinet, and I didn’t know what to do.
Was it five minutes? Ten? It seemed like eternity. I tried putting them on the bed next to each other and leaning over to hug them both at once. They hated it. Unable to choose one over the other, I found myself choosing neither. I felt absolutely overwhelmed.
Finally, an early Beatles song came to mind, and I sang it softly to them. “Tell me why-y-y-y you cry…” When I saw how my singing quieted them, suddenly the tears started pouring out of myeyes, but I didn’t dare stop singing: “Is there anything that I can do? ‘Cause I really can’t stand it, I’m so in love with you.”
“Hello!” My husband returned with the take-out. My face was red hot, my eyes half blind from crying, my nose uselessly stuffed, my throat caught. I was a mess. And I was still singing – badly. But my babies weren’t crying anymore.
That’s when I knew – I mean really felt – that I was their mom. I could hardly believe that I had ever felt so alone and helpless before, even for a moment. Their dad took one baby, and I took the other; we fed them, we changed them, we tucked them back to sleep. And after it all, the food was still warm.
The day-to-day challenge of multiples is simply this: there are multiple of them, but there’s often only one of you. Sometimes your babies need more of you than you have to give. You love them equally and you don’t like having to choose one to take care of first while another waits and cries for you. You will envy the single moms of single babies who complain that they must hold their baby all the time. You wish you could hold your babies all the time – the best you can do is take care of them one at a time.
Every time you get on an airplane, the flight attendants remind you that you must put on your own oxygen mask before you attempt to help another. As a general principle, this applies to everything, and parenting is no exception. You, as a parent, have an obligation to take care of yourself, not just because your well-being is important in and of itself (which it is), but also so that you can be in any shape to care for your children.
The first few months with multiples can feel like a non-stop crisis, but you’ll get through it by taking time for yourself once in a while, by being as rested and as centered as you can be. If you have friends or family members who will give you breaks, take advantage of their help. Finding a newborn support group is also a great way to connect with other parents, hear from experts, and share ideas for coping with the stress of parenting newborn multiples. But even if your friends don’t know how to change a diaper (mine don’t), your relatives live thousands of miles away (mine do), and your local support groups aren’t a good fit (mine weren’t), don’t worry: take it day by day and get as much rest as you can. Eventually things settle into a routine.
My babies are almost a year old now, and they still can’t tell me why they’re crying, but I’m better at figuring it out, better at doing something about it, and better at managing the moments when I feel overwhelmed. And their mommy’s version of “Tell Me Why” is still one of their favorite songs.
This is the third installment of a 3-part series on multiples.
Amy Letter is the mom of twin girls Sagan and Tesla, and a writer, artist and professor of English at Drake University. She is a frequent blogger for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.