By Sapna Khajuria
Being a parent to twins is the most exhilarating, fun, mystifying, often frustrating thing I have ever done. It is not like bringing up two children close in age; and parents of twins (and other multiples) secretly wish people would stop comparing these two situations! For those who think parents of twins are “so lucky” that they “ek baar mein dono ho gaye”, spoiler alert – yes, they are lucky, but it’s not easy, especially the initial years. Here’s the top twin parenting life hacks courtesy 12 years of being a twin mom – some are tricks I successfully used, and some I wish I had used.
Forewarned and prepared
Step 1 should be to pick your doctor and hospital wisely. Because twins very often arrive ahead of schedule, pick a hospital that has offers excellent neonatal care for preemie babies. In the spirit of being prepared, it makes a lot of sense to buy baby supplies in advance – ideally before 32 weeks. You will run out of supplies (diapers, formula, onesies) before you can say twin baby. If you want to enrol in Lamaze classes, schedule them early on; and be prepared for the possibility of being asked to take it easy towards the end of your pregnancy. Pick the right stroller- look up the pros and cons of a tandem (front and back seats) and a side by side model. We used a tandem model and it worked very well – it was narrow enough to fit into most doors.
Feed, burp, diaper, repeat
Very often, twins are born premature and underweight, which can make it tougher for them to latch on and feeding time can be agonisingly long and more frequent than for healthier babies. Kangaroo care or skin-to-skin care helps with preemie babies, and the cuddly feeling of holding your little one is priceless. With a preemie baby you may have to spend extra time in hospital, or not be allowed to vaccinate the baby till they reach a minimum accepted weight. In times like these, you may have to throw politeness out of the window and strictly follow doctor’s restrictions on people meeting the baby. Doctor’s instructions should trump tradition – if your baby has not reached a certain weight milestone or if for any other reason, if doctor forbids bathing the baby, then all first bath ceremonies will just have to wait. Be as firm as you can in your hormonal, sleep deprived state; or better still, get your spouse to deal with it.
Hurrah for coordinated schedules
By the time you feed and change and put one down for a nap and contemplate grabbing a bite, the other baby will wake up. And the cycle repeats itself. Gradually, try to make a routine, even if it means waking up a sleeping baby to feed when the sibling is ready. You may still end up with one baby sleeping through the night early on, and one who cries throughout the night (and you may have to customise your soothing methods for each baby), they are different individuals after all. While this may seem like it will drive you up the wall, this too shall pass soon. Look at it this way, the advantage of your babies having shared space with each other since before they were born means that they can usually sleep through each other’s crying, or with each other’s limbs sprawled over their face.
Seeing double or telling them apart
Telling them apart is really crucial because you don’t want to feed one baby twice over, or deprive an unwell baby of his medication. Dealing with this while being in full on zombie, sleep deprived mode is very possible, and the gem of a rescue for this is to maintain a record. Yup, it’s another “to do” in an already long list of to dos, but that list will tell you who was fed, changed when; and more importantly, at your paediatrician visits, will help the doctor get an idea of each baby’s state of health and growth. Like everything else in today’s world, you’ll find an app to help with most concerns – Baby Connect, Baby Tracker, to name a couple – to record feeds, pumping schedules times (especially confusing with multiple babies).
‘The twins’ is not their name
From their time in the womb, twins have been part of a “unit” and it’s very important to make sure each has his /her unique identity. Try and avoid lumping them together for the sake of convenience; and this begins with not referring to them as “the twins”. Encourage friends and family to do the same. Celebrate their individuality as they grow, keep a separate corner of the room that’s their own, their own clothes, etc. And as for people who ask you which one is the smarter one or stronger one, just take a deep breath and deflect the question.
That dreaded comparison
Can we spare them the expectation of being alike just because they are twins? One of my boys is obsessed with reading and talking and being blissfully unaware of his surroundings like an absent-minded professor, while his twin brother is more sporty, way more organised, and makes friends easily. It hurts every time well-meaning people make comments like “the intelligent one”. Such comparisons are unhealthy, and before you know it, one child will lose confidence in himself. Living in someone’s shadow is never easy, but to live in the shadow of someone who is effectively your replica, is especially hard. When they are ready for school, it’s better to keep them in different sections; in fact, most schools encourage this. This may be a small detail, but gift them different gifts on birthdays, even if those are small gifts. Politely encourage friends and family to get two different things.
For the supermom
The initial phase of looking after twins can get isolating, especially if one or both babies are premature, which makes each day feel extra tiring. Having a good set of friends and family around helps, even if it is just to have a quick chat. Even mundane things like watching your favourite TV show while feeding the babies helps bring a sense of calm. Every time I would get completely overawed by the situation and decide that I just couldn’t handle it, I’d tell myself, somewhere in the world, there were parents with triplets and quadruplets who were dealing with much more than me. Mums of twins and multiple babies have a higher incidence of postpartum depression, and reaching out for help whenever the situation feels tough is the best course of action.
Travels without travails
Shopping, flights and other outings with twins in tow can be quite the adventure, but hang in there. As they grow older, set out basic safety rules that you keep repeating, and your babies will become your favourite travel buddies. Royalty probably travels lighter than the average baby and it makes a lot of sense to have backup diaper bag ready, in case. FYI, ideal times to plan outings are right after meals / naps. You will develop mad organisational and multitasking skills after a few months of being a parent of twins.
Stay a step ahead of them because as a team, they can knock the socks off all your parenting manuals. You know the thing about twins’ secret language? It’s a real thing and many twins end up with their own little cocoon of a code language in the initial years. As toddlers, and this is after they started speaking full sentences, my boys would talk to each other using coded words that my husband and I just couldn’t understand. The agenda for this language was invariably to get up to no good; there was “Audi ‘mein'” which did not refer to a fancy car, but meant, “Hey bro, that shiny breakable object is placed a little too high for my reach, so why don’t you kneel on all fours, so I can stand on your back and get my hands on it?” My point is, these things will happen – they will try to cycle off the top of the stairs or make licking every possible electric socket their mission (true story), so go ahead and remain vigilant, but also enjoy this innocent teamwork at play.
A sense of humour
Murphy probably wrote his law of anything that can go wrong, will go wrong after having spent time with parents of twins. The way to face this- Retain a sense of humour. Whether it’s projectile puke or getting confused about which baby you just fed, rolling with the punches and not sweating the small stuff are bits of advice I wish I had paid more attention to. It helps to have a spouse who is able to find the humour when Murphy’s law seems to be your daily story.
Finding Zen amid the noise
Be prepared for a whole bunch of unnecessary, daft, way too personal questions and unsolicited advice that can often be hurtful, including from random strangers, who will want to know if you had a “normal” delivery, and whether you are eating half of your babies’ food because they look “very ‘dublaa patla’ and weak”, or why you haven’t dressed them identically and so on. Never having won any prizes for tactful answers to annoying questions, I would have a stock set of noncommittal answers ready, while I mentally sniggered at what I would have like to say.
Find your village
The folks who said it takes a village to raise a child were spot on. Find your people – your family, friends and other parents of twins. Getting in touch with other parents of twins and multiples makes you realise the normalcy hidden in your crazy life. There are many online resources meant especially for parents of twins, like Twinversity and Twins and multiple births association. Listen to advice and read books to your heart’s content, but trust your own gut, and know that it will get easier after the first few months.
It’s easy to be so focused on getting all the chores done that you end of missing out on one on one time with each baby. Neither baby has ever known a time when he / she was the sole claimant to mom and dad’s affections. Carve time out, either when one baby is watched by someone else, or napping. And keep this going as they grow older. The baby who was shy at age two may turn out into a chatterbox at age four. It is fascinating to see each of them blossom into their own personality, and these moments can be missed unless you spend time with each child separately.
Other practical stuff
Sometimes one twin may start speaking before the other and end up translating for the sibling who is still stuck on limited words. Easy as it is to give in to this oh so cute spectacle, resist the urge and try to encourage the second twin to use his words. Do you reveal to them who is the older twin? We started off by not telling our boys, and when we did tell them, the result was hilarious. The younger twin started calling his brother “bhratashri” inspired by Mahabharata that they had just started watching.
There are many upsides to bringing up twins
They will always have each other, they can entertain each other and, in most cases, sharing isn’t such a big problem because this has been their default mode from the very start. Carrying two babies is quite the workout, others always think you’re a kind of superhero (pat on the back) and some transitions are easier, like putting them to sleep in a different room.
There’s so much to learn every day, and double the hugs and kisses are the best possible bonus. Cherish this joyride and be sure to make time to enjoy the little stuff. The one thing I regret the most – not taking enough photos and videos. When I said this to my boys, they replied with the innocence only little ones possess, “But it’s okay, mama. You have all those pictures in your mind camera.”
(The writer is a lawyer by training, who would rather be a full-time globetrotter, and mom to 12-year-old twin boys who share her love for all things filmy.)