Life with Twins
What it's really like being the mother of newborn twins
"HOLY CRAP! TWINS??"
That's what we hear on a regular basis, usually as we walk around the neighborhood with our mammoth stroller loaded with our 4-month-old twin girls. We are a magnet for kind and curious comments from strangers. People feel compelled to figure us out, like we're some sort of walking circus attraction--cute, but also a little freakish.
We're getting used to the comments. They started months ago, just days after Avi and Maya arrived on a misty spring morning in late April. Their birth couldn't have gone smoother and they couldn't have been less freakish. They were perfect; we knew how risky twin pregnancies could be, and we were decidedly blessed. They weighed a very healthy 6-ish pounds each, and scored high on their (meaningless) Apgar tests. They were immediately deemed "take-home babies" by our OB. We sprang for a fancy private hospital room and we spent three days getting to know our twin baby girls.
Two Different Babies
From the very first squawk, Avi and Maya asserted themselves as different--both in appearance and in temperament. Within days I stopped thinking of them as twins. Instead, they were my two very distinct babies. Maya was needier, cried louder and harder; she was the definitive little sister. Maya demanded our attention while our serene Avi, with her wide-set eyes and bright red heart-shaped lips broke our hearts as she lay quietly waiting while we tended to Maya. For three days we searched their faces and bodies for differences and found so many. And yet, everyone referred to them as "the twins," one monumental reproductive event.
Despite my insistence that two babies was just our reality, and not really freakish at all, when we stepped into the hospital elevator with our two car seats, we were no longer new parents, we were instant celebs. Everyone wanted to know what it was like.
Quickly, the bliss of the very early days and the constant well wishes evaporated into the really tough slog of the first three months--those were harrowing times. But trying as it was, I only remember it with the foggy haze of a war veteran (my mother "reminded" me the other day that I was rushed to the ER with a fever of 104 and a raging case of mastitis somewhere around week six. Oh yeah! I totally forgot!)
My lack of clear memories disappoints. Because four months out, the questions continue to come:
"TWINS?! HOLY CRAP. WHAT'S THAT LIKE, HAVING TWO?"
And that's usually followed by:
" I CANNOT. EVEN. IMAGINE."
I want to tell everyone what it's like, but try describing the most awesome and awesomely overwhelming event and I guarantee you'll come up short.
The Sandwich Board Technique
I read in one of my many parenting twins books that if you're looking to avoid constant attention when out and about, you can just post a sign on your stroller that lists the basics (yes, they're twins, fraternal, naturally occurring--not that it's any of your business--two girls, 4 months old, thank you so much). My husband and I have had a good laugh thinking about the possibilities for such a sign. Lately, in my fantasy the sign has even morphed into something as large as a sandwich board that I'd wear when I stroll the babies around town. When the questions come, I'll just point to the appropriate section on the board. And beneath all the basic stats, I'll answer the number one question about "what it's like." Here's what I've composed for the board so far:
"I'm a new mom, and I've got these two babies, and they need the same things and sometimes, different things, all at once. But this is the boring and ordinary part. If you really want to know 'How I do it' I should also tell you that I'm reminded every day not just how lucky we are to have them, but how lucky they are to have each other. When I put them in a crib together and switch on their mobile and they begin to coo and roll toward each other and Maya rests her feet on Avi's belly and Avi smiles at Maya's head, I feel so grateful that I had two, that I gave Avi the gift of Maya, and Maya the gift of Avi."
That's probably too many words for a sandwich board, but I was wishing I had the board on when I was stopped by another kind stranger in the neighborhood bagel store the other day. It was busy in there, it was hot outside, and I was just hoping to get in and out quickly so the babies stayed asleep. But she was on her way over and there was nowhere to go. So I pasted on my most gracious smile and prepared for the inevitable questions.
The kind stranger leaned way over the side of the stroller and smiled at Maya, asleep in the front seat. She peeked in the back and smiled at Avi, whose eyes were glassy, on her way to sleep, too. Then she stood up and looked at me. "Two girls?" she asked. "Yep," I nodded. "I've got twin girls, too," she offered. "Oh, really? How old are they?" I responded, on cue, prepared for the "it'll get easier" speech or the "keep them on the same schedule" speech.
"They're 4 now," she said. And I nodded, waiting. But instead of recommending a better double stroller, a new sleep training guidebook or a suggestion for ways to simultaneously breastfeed, she simply put one hand on her heart and looked me squarely in the eye. "It's like winning the lottery," she said. "It's like winning the lottery." Then she moved on.
I stood there, smiling at the space where she had just stood. I was so tired. My hair was knotted in a bun on top of my head and I felt disheveled, t-shirt stained with old milk, crumpled receipts and tissues stuffed in my pockets. Maya's hat had fallen over her face and Avi's cheeks were flushed. Someone smelled like poop. They were both stirring, awake after just 15 minutes of sleep. And maybe I was delirious, but I felt uncomplicatedly happy. For once, I didn't need my imaginary sandwich board, because someone got it. And besides, she had just given me a much shorter sound byte.
So next time I see you, and you're wondering what having twins is like, and you tell me YOU CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE IT, I'm going to tell you that it's like winning the lottery, because it is. I have two beautiful healthy babies, and that's a plain and simple miracle. A miracle combined with a whole lot of dirty diapers.
For more tales from the parenting world, read about having a girl and dealing with pink, one mother's different birthing experience with each of her kids, and the scoop behind extended breastfeeding.