Some of you might remember Michelle as the do-it-all mother who commutes home from her full-time job AND cooks dinner for her family. Michelle works in fashion by day and mothers by night, raising three children in the suburbs (something she is still getting used to, the suburbs that is, not the kids).
Before Michelle was busy making the rest of us look bad, she was just a young, scared baby-making machine who didn’t know what to expect when she learned she has having twins. Here she shares with us her experience carrying and delivering not one, but two (!), little babies. Expect the unexpected.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting… TWINS!
If you ever hear the following three words, sit back, buckle up and get ready for a bumpy ride: “You’re having twins!” After ten months of trying to get pregnant for the first time, my wish was granted two-fold. I didn’t realize my prayers could actually multiply.
Although, the news wasn’t broken quite like that, in reality, having multiples is a very different experience than carrying one child right from the start. My first ultrasound was very early on. The doctor saw two embryonic sacs -one with a heartbeat and one with no heartbeat, but a fetal pole.
Quite often a woman starts off pregnant with twins and never knows it. By the time we typically get our first ultrasound the second sac, if not viable, can go completely undetected. It’s called “vanishing twin syndrome.” My doctor wanted to see me again a week later because he seemed to think this could be the case with me.
What a long week! My husband reminded me that our goal was to get pregnant with one baby, so I shouldn’t be upset if the second baby didn’t develop. That wasn’t how I felt at all. There were potentially two babies inside of me and I wanted them both to be healthy.
Finally, at the next ultrasound, there were two heartbeats. I wanted twins and I got my way. But this didn’t stop my initial worries, it multiplied them. I became very superstitious and vowed not to tell anyone about my pregnancy until I was out of the precarious first trimester. That didn’t work perfectly. As soon as the first drink was passed up, some observant friends took notice. Still we managed to surprise (shock) our family and friends after 11 weeks with word that we were expecting twins.
The most amazing part of telling people you’re having twins are the brazen questions about fertility that follow. Everyone from our own mothers to coworkers asked in various ways ranging from the bold and direct, “did you use treatments?” to the subtle, “do twins run in your family?” Get ready for inappropriate questions, there’s an unspoken fascination to figure out if twins are “natural” or were conceived after anguishing fertility treatments. It’s an extremely personal subject matter either way, one you don’t want to discuss with your mother or your coworkers. Still, people find the need to know.
Regardless, it was more important that I was in the know about my own pregnancy. This brought me to reach out to my local Mothers of Multiples club (you can find local clubs through www.nomotc.org), which helped throughout my pregnancy – I’m still involved in the club today. It is amazing how much wisdom women can impart on each other.
My newfound friends recommended I go beyond the typical reading of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. There’s an overwhelming number of books on raising twins, so I opted for an easy read called Juggling Twins by Meghan Regan-Loomis. It was succinct, humorous and I highly recommend it.
All in all I felt pretty good about becoming a mom of twins, until the day we went to set up our baby registry. We met with a personal shopper at our local baby chain for three very long hours. That poor woman had to explain why we needed each item and how it worked. My husband was speechless… Until we left.
“Holy sh*t, you have no idea what you’re doing, do you?!” he blurted out in the parking lot. I admitted the obvious –WE had no idea what to do with one baby, let alone two. We needed help. And I still had months of pregnancy not to mention labor to go through. At this point, we decided to hire a baby nurse for our first few nights as new parents (more on that godsend later).
Meanwhile several close friends were also going through their first pregnancies, only I was getting much bigger quicker and had A LOT more doctor appointments. My friends seemed less nervous while I was concerned at every appointment.
The average length of pregnancy for twins is 35 weeks, versus an average 39 weeks for a singleton.
Well, 37 weeks in it was clear my twins were in no hurry to leave my happy, nervous uterus. The doctors highly recommended I be induced at 38 weeks.
Induction was an issue for me. Throughout my pregnancy the plan was for a vaginal birth, as long as both babies were positioned head down. I worried that being induced would increase the risk of needing a C-section. Half of twins are delivered via C-section; many of which are planned well ahead of time. Still the doctors told me that twins in utero past 38 weeks had an increased risk of stillbirth, which is what led me to agree to the induction.
Here’s the best advice I can give any expecting mother: Do not take labor decisions lightly.
What the doctors never discussed with me were the risks associated with the commonly used drug Pitocin. They include uterine tearing, vaginal lacerations, seizures, coma and severe postpartum bleeding; none of which I was aware of. There’s wide debate over Pitocin, and both sides fiercely defend their views. I wish I knew more about this reality before my brutal Pitocin contractions began (and yes, they are much stronger than normal contractions).
After an epidural I slept and relaxed through much of my labor, until the doctor came in and told me it was time to push. This is when it got real.
I was rolled into the Operating Room. Twins are delivered in the OR as opposed to Labor and Delivery rooms because of the increased risk of complication. When I was transferred from the L&D bed to the OR bed the epidural came out. After two painful hours of pushing, my daughter, Baby A was born – a peanut at 5 pounds, 6 ounces.
I wanted time to relax and hold her but I still had one more baby to go. They broke my other water and ordered me to push right away. Baby B wasn’t facing the right way so for 40 minutes the doctor manually tried to turn his head while I pushed. There are no words to describe that pain.
Finally they opted to vacuum out my son, Baby B – born 6 pounds, 8 ounces with a vacuum nozzle-sized bruise on his forehead.
After three painful hours, I was ready to meet my new babies. But wait, there’s more.
Severe postpartum bleeding (see risks of Pitocin above) turned this happy moment into a serious situation. The doctors tried to stop the bleeding in several agonizing ways that made birthing pain seem like nothing in comparison. I begged and screamed and cursed for drugs, any drugs. Then they knocked me out, and used an intrauterine balloon to stop the bleeding. Luckily that worked. If it hadn’t I would have needed a blood transfusion and possibly a hysterectomy.
An hour later I woke up in recovery dazed and confused and wanting desperately to hold my newborn babies. Request denied. You can’t hold your babies in recovery. It would be another eight hours at best.
After a sleepless night hooked up to machines, being poked, prodded and medicated every hour, the balloon was removed. Still dazed, now exhausted, I was moved to the maternity ward where I could finally meet my babies. My tiny son and daughter were rolled in and placed on me. The next two days in the hospital were an exhausting blur of visitors and trying to nurse two children and get some sleep.
The book Juggling Twins gave the best post-labor advice: instead of tending to visitors, use your time in the hospital to rest and learn all you can from the nurses about taking care of the babies. But I was so happy to celebrate and show off my twins. I was grateful to have so many people who loved me and my husband and our new family.
Well, I should’ve taken that advice… the book was right! My first attempts at breastfeeding were rough. I set myself up for a tough transition back home and would’ve been completely sunk if not for Alecea – the baby nurse we hired and the best decision my husband and I made so far as parents.
She arrived the morning after we returned from the hospital. She worked 24 hours a day for 4 days, showing us how to swaddle, bathe, and even dress the babies. She taught me to feed both babies at the same time, showed me how to work the breast pump, and even how to train my body to make enough milk for two babies. In between training sessions, she organized our changing table, made up the babies cribs and set up the baby monitor. Most importantly, she got our newborn twins on a schedule – before they were a week old. Amazing!
While moms of singletons can decide whether or not they want to feed on demand or opt for a more rigid schedule, moms of multiples don’t have a choice. With twins, scheduling is not an option, it’s the only way to survive.
Having twins, as with having a singleton, is a constant learning process. I now have three year-old twins and a ten month-old son who amaze me, crack me up and stress me out on a daily basis. You just don’t know what to expect from hour to hour.
Be ready to expect the unexpected. Everyone’s experience is different, but here are the key points I wish someone had told me.
1) Worries don’t stop, they multiply. From the moment you’re told it’s a twins pregnancy, the checklist of concerns grows. Take it in stride.
2) Be ready for the inappropriate questions. Remember, it’s not a reflection on you, but maybe the people asking the questions.
3) Get help – read the books, join local parenting groups. It’s amazing what you can learn from those that have been through it before.
4) You are going to feel overwhelmed and that’s okay; it’s a rite of parenting. If you or your spouse have to let out a little steam in the Buy Buy Baby parking lot, so be it.
5) Do not take labor decisions lightly. Find out all the risk factors in any procedure. Just because it is the most common or the first recommendation, does not mean it is best for you or your babies.
6) Use your post-labor time in the hospital wisely. Consider minimizing or banning guest visits so you can focus on your recovery and learning about infant care.
7) Schedule professional help during the very first days if you can afford to. Here are some tips for how to find care for you and your newborns when you return from the hospital.
8) Make a schedule and stick to it! Twins need a feeding and sleeping schedule, and so do parents. We need it as much as they do. It’ll help you learn when to get some rest, get things done, eat, etc.
9) Take care of yourself – during the pregnancy, labor and postpartum.
10) Enjoy the experience. It is a whirlwind. The first year goes by in a flash. We’re so focused on surviving, we sometimes forget to enjoy it too!