Parenting is no cake walk, even if the rewards are sweet. Becoming parents to twins, triplets or higher-order multiples requires even greater reserves of patience, a near-fanatical devotion to organization and, ideally, a few extra sets of arms.
Haley Terry, mother of twin girls, attests, "Sometimes you are literally juggling them, one in each hand. After a near-drop experience during week 1, I never did that again." Terry, a life-long athlete, describes parenting multiples as the most physical job she's ever had, likening the lifting, squatting and carrying to a CrossFit regimen.
So in the future, you'll have great biceps and find untapped wells of patience. But you can work your way to the planning expertise -- starting now.
First, prepare for the realities of carrying multiples. It's likely that bed rest will be involved and possible that the babies will be premature. A C-section may be necessary, and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may hold your infants for a little while. A good way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by negative possibilities is to learn as much as you can. Touring the NICU, for example, will make it less of a shock to see wires and tubes connected to your babies later -- you'll know what each machine does and how it's helping your newborns get stronger.
Because of the possibility of bed rest and premature birth, you're also on a shorter timeline for getting things ready. You'll want to finish the nursery and all your baby-proofing prep ahead of schedule, because after you're taking care of two, three, four or more little ones, you won't have the energy -- or the time.
We've got your next step -- on the next page.
Who to Talk To
When it comes to parenting multiples, you need more than "What to Expect When You're Expecting." You need other parents of multiples to tell you exactly what's coming down the pike.
Luckily, parents of multiples often like to stick together. Nonprofit organizations such as the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs and Mothers of Supertwins (MOST) will tell you what you want to know about everything from birth statistics to naming the babies. Even better for the parent-to-be who might be feeling a little lost, there are online forums as well as local support groups that they can hook you up with. When asked what he wished people had told him about preparing for multiples, father of twins Jonah Keri responded immediately with, "Twin clubs." As he pointed out, "There are logistical issues that people with singletons just can't explain."
It isn't just parents who need education. Obstetricians do, too. In the experience of Keri and his partner, "Most regular OBs are not equipped to handle a birth of multiples. Many OBs have assumptions that are based on low-risk singleton pregnancies."
A woman pregnant with multiples may want to see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, or perinatologist. In addition to four years of residency in obstetrics, perinatologists complete two to three years of additional education in complicated pregnancies. When it comes to a high-risk pregnancy, bring in the star player.
To get ready for life with babies after delivery, find a good lactation consultant if you're interested in breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is tricky for plenty of new moms, and it can be even tougher with more than one mouth to feed. Most hospitals have lactation consultants, but they may not be able to spend much time with a new mom. Keri recommends, "Don't be afraid to reject someone who's not helping you, and be sure to keep searching until you find one who meets your needs."
Pumping is a good way to keep your milk supply built up if your babies are premature -- you may not be able to breast-feed them right away. It's also an option for women who can't or don't want to breast-feed. Formula feeding and supplementing are also totally fine. As Terry said, "Some people will make you feel like you're the worst mother ever if you don't breastfeed, but that's ridiculous. Do your best."
What to Buy
It's good to stretch those dollars, but when it comes to safety, don't skimp. Car seats, cribs, strollers and infant swings should all be quality pieces, even if they're pricey. Take a peek at publications like Consumer Reports for reviews and safety ratings. (Here's the Consumer Reports Car Seat Buying Guide from January 2012.)
If you can, go ahead and splurge on items that you're going to be using frequently, too. When you're exhausted in the wee hours of the morning, the faults of a cheap breast pump might be enough to push you over the edge.
There are plenty of things that you can get cheap, though. Remember that friends and family love to help. Terry advises: Register for everything. "It may seem greedy, but as a friend told me, people want to help, so let them." Keep tags on gifts so you can return stuff you don't need for stuff you do. As Jonah said, "People LOVE buying little tiny baby clothes, so you might end up with 80 onesies per baby in one size that only lasts a month, but have virtually no clothes in the next size."
One of the best things about the multiples clubs mentioned on the previous page is the sales. Most have a couple of big sales a year of gently used items, and you can find furniture, clothes and toys -- pretty much anything you need. If you don't pick up everything your nesting instinct desires there, you can still plan ahead on a budget by checking out consignment stores and hitting up friends and relatives for hand-me-downs.
Keri reminds us that hospitals will send you home with a lot of diapers, so you can wait until you have their sizes figured out (yes, it matters) before you buy in bulk. (And you do want to buy in bulk. Terry swears, "You will go through 12 to 14 diapers a day in the beginning -- per kid.")
The same goes for bottles. Babies can be surprisingly picky about them, so Terry's tip is: "You can buy them individually, so it would be a smart idea to do that, figure out what works, then go and buy at the very least 6 of that brand."
And while you'll need multiples of some things, you don't necessarily need two (or three or four) copies of everything. One bottle warmer, for example, is fine for a few babies.
Now that you're set with the stuff, let's talk to-dos.
What to Do
Few parents feel completely prepared for a child, but you get used to feeling like a member of a very small improv troupe after a while. Here are some sanity-saving tips gleaned from the pros to keep the show going.
Accept all offers of help. Keri advises, "When [the babies are] newborns, make sure to book visitors for at least the first few weeks, if not longer. People who will actually be helpful rather than just making goo-goo eyes at them." People may want to help but not know what to do, so if they offer, take them up on it and name some specifics -- ask for assistance running errands and hand over a shopping list, or request an extra pair of arms to hold an infant for a few hours while you throw in some laundry or take a nap.
Crunch some numbers. After any maternity leave is up, you and your partner will need to decide on what you can afford when it comes to childcare. An accountant or financial planner can help you figure out your budget. Because good childcare is so pricy, and even more so for multiples, many couples have found that it makes more financial sense for one of them to stay home.
Give yourself a break. It's simply not possible to spend the exact same number of minutes with each baby each day unless a stopwatch is involved. Some days, the fussier baby is going to need more attention than the other kid(s). You don't have to feel guilty for giving it. It will all even out. And forgive yourself when you're tired to the point of hallucinating and short on patience. Terry said that in the difficult early weeks, before things had fallen into a rhythm, "I would tell myself that each naptime was a do-over and when they woke up I had another chance to exude patience and love them to pieces."
Sneak some sleep whenever you can. Seriously. Whenever.
Be a good teammate. Whether you're part of a couple or doing it with the help of friends and family, you're not alone. Love -- and the desire to bring more of it into the world -- started this whole baby thing, and that's what's going to keep it moving. When you see your partner hit the ledge, take over. He or she will do the same for you. Those moments will pass, but how you handle parenting together sets the stage for your future as a family.
We've got the to-dos -- now, take a look at the NOT to-dos.
What NOT to Do
Born in 1934, the Dionne quintuplets were the world's first known quintuplets to live past infancy. Annette, Cecile, Emilie, Marie and Yvonne were taken from their parents by the government of Ontario and made into a tourist attraction: Quintland.
Quintland (technically, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery) was incredibly lucrative -- for the government. The girls spent their time, day in and day out, being displayed on balconies and watched by strangers as they played. A trust fund was set up for them, but when they reached adulthood, less than half the money was left: $800,000 for the children who'd brought in $500 million in 10 years. (The government settled with them later in life for $4 million.)
They Dionnes wrote an autobiography detailing their sheltered existence and misery growing up, both in Quintland and in their parents' home. They described their lives as "ruined" by exploitation.
In 2007, the world met a new family of multiples through their TVs: the Gosselins. A set of twins, sextuplets and their parents lived their daily lives on a TLC show called "Jon & Kate Plus 8." The show was a smash hit, but it didn't take long for the backlash to arrive. Questions were raised about child labor laws. Jon and Kate's marriage disintegrated on TV, and the show had to be rebranded "Kate Plus 8" as the two went through a very nasty, very public divorce. The Gosselins fought back against criticism, saying they needed the money from the show to raise the children.
MOST's statement on multiples and media exposure cautions, "All parties should appreciate that the potential impact of having an audience closely following the intimate details of a family's life, including the ups and inevitably the downs, may not be clear until years later."
Media attention is natural for multiples. So is extra attention from friends, family and strangers. But it's important to remember that your kids are all individuals (even if, as babies, they may not have all that much personality yet). Don't call them "the triplets," call them Larry, Moe and Curly -- and encourage others to do the same. This is why dressing them alike can backfire. Not only is it potentially confusing, it sets up the child as a member of a unit. It can be tough to find your own way in later years when you have no sense of "you."
We've prepared you as best as we can with an article. Now it's time to get out there and start getting ready for your big, beautiful family.
- DePalma, Anthony. "The Babies of Quintland Now: Broke, and Bitter." New York Times. March 4, 1998. (Feb. 21, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/04/world/st-bruno-journal-the-babies-of-quintland-now-broke-and-bitter.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- Gaffney, Dennis. "The Story of the Dionne Quintuplets." Antiques Roadshow Online. PBS. March 23, 2009. (Feb. 20, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/fts/wichita_200803A12.html
- Keri, Jonah. E-mail interview. Feb. 19, 2012.
- Mothers of Supertwins (MOST). http://www.mostonline.org.
- Terry, Haley. E-mail interview. Feb. 21, 2012.