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Overwhelmed as a Mom of Multiples

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, March 22, 2016

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.

Tags:  expecting  multiples 

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The Whys of Multiples

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Multiples attract attention, there’s no getting around it. People approach you in public, sometimes just to look at your babies and say “Aw,” sometimes to tell you about twins they know, sometimes to tell you they are a twin! Once a woman came up to me and, touching my amazing double stroller, said, “I wish they had these when I had my twins 60 years ago!”

But sometimes people stop you and ask you a million personal questions, and it’s hard to decide how much you should say. Usually the first question is, “Do twins run in your family?”

If you poke around your family tree, you’ll probably find some twins — about 97 percent of all births are singletons, but twins make up the majority of that other 3 percent. Fraternal twins — twins who are no more similar than any pair of siblings — can sometimes run on the mother’s side of a family if women in that family tend to release more than one egg per ovulation cycle. If you’re having babies later in life, you’re also more likely to release more than one egg and therefore more likely to have fraternal twins.

But identical twins — twins who share the exact same DNA — and multiples running on the father’s side are apparently the result of chance and coincidence, and can happen to anyone. The truth is that multiples run in the human family: women of African descent are more likely to have twins, and women of European descent are more likely to have triplets or more, but anyone planning on having a child should be aware that you could always get a little more than you bargained for.

And of course, if you use any “ART” — assisted reproductive technology — you’re more likely to have multiples too. That certainly affected my pregnancy: My ovaries didn’t release two eggs in a cycle; they released 20! I underwent fertility treatment, and a course of injectable drugs put my reproductive system on overdrive. Of those 20 eggs, 16 were mature enough to inject a sperm into, 8 fertilized, and 4 were still growing five days later. Two of those four were placed in my uterus, and both of them implanted. As a result of this miracle of modern science, two happy, healthy little girls are now the beautiful center of my life.

So when a woman comes up to me in a shopping mall and says, “Twins! How precious! Do twins run in your family?” I have to make some decisions about how much I want to tell. She might accept a simple yes or no and ask no more questions. Or she might interrogate me — Are they boys or girls? Identical or fraternal? What are their names? Were they born early? How much did they weigh at birth? What’s their birthday? — until I am forced to run away. Sometimes people will actually come up to me and say, “Twins! How precious! You must have done IVF!”

In my case, that is true, but I know women whose multiples were the result of chance who get very annoyed when people assume they used fertility treatments. Even to me (and I am writing publicly about my experience!), the question seems too personal when it’s coming from a passing stranger.

But people who ask these questions do not mean any harm. They are delighted by the cuteness-overload of multiple babies. They aren’t thinking about how their questions sound or considering that you get asked these questions all the time. And people can’t help it: they have a question, and they hope that you, the parent, can provide an explanation for why you had multiple babies instead of just one, like most people do.

Perhaps, then, the best answer to the question is to tell these curious if slightly awkward strangers the truth: multiples happen. They happen for lots of reasons and they happen for no reason at all. Once they are here they are a lot of work and a tremendous blessing. Moms of multiples may need help with the workload, but it’s actually pretty easy to find the joy in (or the love for!) all our babies.

How you deal with the attention is a personal choice. Some parents of multiples enjoy it, but some would prefer to be left alone. But if you’re having multiples, you should expect these questions and have a plan to handle them, because your babies are so amazing, they’re going to stop traffic.

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.

Tags:  expecting  multiples 

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Finding Out You’re Having Multiples

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time is as amazing as every parent says. A fetal heartbeat is quick – our baby’s was 160 beats per minute. When I heard it, I felt my own heart race to keep up. On the ultrasound screen, we saw a tiny, Teddy-bear-shaped body wiggling around in what looked like a dance of happiness.

While my husband and I were saying, “Oh wow” and “I can’t believe it” and “We’re going to have a baby!” the ultrasound technician was still at work. Finally she said, “And here is the second one.”

And we looked, quieter now. I think I said, “There’s another one?” My husband said, “Twins?” She showed us a little gray blur. This embryo was harder to see than the first one, but its heartbeat was strong and clear, 156 beats per minute. I was pregnant with two.

Hearing the second heartbeat is harder to describe. Part of me wanted to laugh: I was only trying for one and I got two – classic overachiever! On the other hand, the hope and joy I felt was… complicated. A multiples pregnancy increases the odds of gestational diabetes, anemia, premature birth and virtually every other pregnancy complication there is, including some unique to twin pregnancies, like twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTS), a possibility with some identical twins in which one baby imperils the other by absorbing its sibling’s life-supporting oxygen and food. 

These complications didn’t just mean trouble for me: my babies would be more likely to be small and to have difficulties early in life, perhaps needing some time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I was only 8 weeks pregnant, and I was already thinking about the NICU!

And when the ultrasound technician showed me the second heartbeat, I felt immediately anxious, wondering whether I could give two babies the attention they need and deserve.

Then she said, “Let’s see if I find a third one.” Triplets take all the complications of twins and increase them. And day-to-day life with three or more babies stretches human ingenuity to its limits.

In my case, there was no third heartbeat. But I was still looking at a challenging pregnancy and birth, and a future as a mom of twins. In that little room lighted only by a screen showing outlines of embryos that would someday be my kids, my life changed in ways I could never have imagined.

The ultrasound technician asked us if we were all right – how does it feel, knowing you’re having twins? I said, “It feels like we’ve won the lottery – a very expensive lottery!” I was joking, sort of, but what I said was true: chance brought me something unimaginably wonderful, two babies! But this great fortune would “cost” me: not just money, but time and trouble, a toll on my body, sacrifices in my lifestyle, challenges to my peace of mind. The work and wear reminds me, daily, how precious my babies are. Isn’t that true of every pregnancy, and every child?

Moms of multiples spend more time with doctors, for which I am grateful, because I never felt alone. It seemed I always had an appointment with someone: my obstetrician, the perinatologist, the hospital dietitians who helped me through my gestational diabetes and the invaluable nurses and doctors of Labor and Delivery, whom I had to visit more than once before my babies were finally born.

When the birth finally came, one of my babies had some trouble and was put under observation for possible admittance to the NICU. But she thrived in the hours following the birth and they were able to bring her to me instead. Our babies came home less than a week after they were born, without any need for intensive care. But even with healthy twins, or triplets, or more, the adjustment to a new life together is the next big step – one we were excited to begin.

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.

Tags:  expecting  multiples 

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