There is so much competition among moms. I’ve come to find out, from hanging out in twin groups online, that twin moms are no exception. While there is a really great sense of camaraderie, an overall feeling of “we’re all in this together,” there is also a lot of bragging that goes on.
Women boast about how far they made it with their twin pregnancy (the longer the better, obviously) and the birth weights of their babies (the bigger the better, obviously). They proudly proclaim it to the world if their twins were born vaginally, or if they didn’t need any NICU time. They wear imaginary badges for things like babywearing their twins, tandem breastfeeding, exclusively breastfeeding (not a drop of formula!), or for the moms who do have to pump and bottle feed, the number of ounces pumped in a session or the total number of ounces of breastmilk in one’s “freezer stash.”
The moms who do everything “right” are touted as “rock stars.” “Wow, you made it to 40 weeks with twins?! You are a rock star!” As if women really have much control over how long their babies remain in. There are so many factors to this: the type of twins, whether they have separate placentas or one shared one, if they have any issues such as TTTS or IUGR (which is what mine developed at the end), if they have an incompetent cervix or go into preterm labor, etc. A mom can do everything “right” and still end up with premature babies.
I didn’t go into my twin pregnancy trying to prove anything, but it’s hard not to feel inadequate for my apparent “failures” at this whole twin mom thing…
My twins were born at 34 weeks. I had a c-section…I CHOSE to have a c-section (gasp!) They were born small for their gestational age. They had to stay in the special care NICU for ten days. We have had nothing but issues trying to breastfeed. I’m now bottle feeding 90% of the time, and struggling to keep up with pumping for them. They have had some formula, my first babies to ever have a drop of formula. When I can manage to get them to nurse, I have found that I hate tandem breastfeeding and it makes my skin crawl (it’s kind of a sensory nightmare for me). I had thought I would wear them all the time, but in reality only have managed to get them both in a carrier comfortably a few times. With 3 other kids and twins, I am not able to practice “attachment parenting” like I have in the past. I am not cloth diapering, although I am thinking of going back to it soon due to the alarming number of disposable diapers we are going through. My twins don’t get held as frequently as my singletons did. I’m often trying to put them down so I can pump (omg the never-ending pumping) or tend to the other kids or do the other 579257 things I need to do on a daily basis to keep my household running.
Basically, I would not be much of a “rock star” twin mom in the eyes of others. I didn’t manage to accomplish ANY of the things that would earn me bragging rights (not that I would have bragged, but perhaps just felt a sense of pride in my own head).
The hardest things for me to process have been the feeding issues. It had never even crossed my mind that I might not be able to breastfeed my twins. Each of my singletons nursed until age two. I even had a brief stint as a La Leche League leader several years ago. Suffice to say that breastfeeding is extremely important to me. Of COURSE I would succeed at nursing my twins.
I wasn’t anticipating preemies. I didn’t know that I would not be able to do skin to skin or attempt to nurse them until many hours after their birth. I didn’t expect that they would be born with lip and tongue ties that would prevent them from latching properly, or that low muscle tone due to being premature would affect the way their mouths move. I didn’t count on them tiring out so easily from nursing that they would burn more calories than they were taking in, causing them to lose weight after we brought them home, and gain very slowly thereafter. And I sure did not think that even after we got their tongue and lip ties revised, they STILL would not be able to latch.
I kept thinking, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I make this work?! I am not a rock star. I am failing.
I had a moment of clarity the other night. It was literally as if a fog around me lifted and I could see clearly for the first time in 11 weeks. I had been so confused as to what to do about feeding my babies. Should I keep trying to pump? Should I do this or that to boost my milk supply? How long should I keep trying to make this work? I would sit at the table, day after day, pumping…always pumping…just feeling completely lost, lonely, and disappointed in myself.
I was lying in bed, trying for the fifth time that day to nurse Magnolia. With each and every suck, she was losing suction and making a clicking sound, getting more and more frustrated and beginning to cry. I cried too. This wasn’t working. She didn’t want to do this.
I looked into her huge eyes, which are slowly turning brown, just like I had predicted. Gosh, she was beautiful. Perfect. And those eyes were pleading with me to feed her. So I gave her a bottle, and watched the look of sweet relief wash over her face as she swallowed. She was gazing at me with the same look of adoration that my other babies had while nursing. Literally the same exact expression. I could see in her eyes that she was loving me, trusting that I would take care of her needs and help her grow. I needed to do that, by any means necessary.
If parenting kids on the autism spectrum has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t – and should not even try to – fit my children into a box. Each of them is an individual. They have different personalities, temperaments, and needs. I am already seeing Maggie and Sunny becoming their own people, which is breathtakingly beautiful to experience unfolding.
Parenting is not about doing things my way. It’s about working with my children to find what works for them. Right now, breastfeeding is not working for Magnolia and Sunflower. And I have been wasting my time, spinning my wheels, in a perpetual cycle of pumping, failed nursing attempts, sore nipples, and more pumping….just desperately trying to make this work. I was so determined to do this – just stubborn, really – because I needed to feel I had succeeded at something. In a way, it would be redemption for all the things that had not gone the way I’d hoped with my pregnancy, their birth, and their early days. I may have failed at literally everything else, but dammit, I would nurse these children if it killed me!
I was looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe it was my tendency to think very black and white, all or nothing. If I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed twins, well then, clearly I was just a complete failure.
I was wrong. I am not a failure.
I am a rock star.
I am a rock star because I have overcome significant challenges alongside my babies, and I have not given up. I am a rock star because even in the depths of postpartum depression, plus my usual September funk, when all I wanted to do was run away, I have persevered.
I am a rock star because, although it took a considerable amount of pain, suffering, and worry, I have found the solution that is best for Magnolia and Sunflower. I will set aside my own pride and that picture in my head of how things “should” look. This is not about me, and never was. It’s not about proving anything to anyone, other than my children.
I will always be a rock star in their eyes. And that is all that matters.
I will continue to occasionally try to put them to the breast, but if they are physically unable to extract milk, I will not push them. I will continue to pump and feed them breastmilk, but I’m no longer going to allow myself to stress about it. The anxiety I have been putting myself through is not necessary, and it is not helping anyone. I’ll pump when I can, and when I can’t, it will be ok. I’m tired of spending the majority of my day desperately trying to find 15 minutes to pump, pushing aside household duties, and telling my kids that maybe I can play later. I will be a better mom to all five of them if I can just let this go.
My babies will be fed. They will grow and thrive. I have already learned that formula isn’t the villain I once saw it as. As soon as I started fortifying the twins’ breastmilk with Neosure, that was when they started gaining weight. They wouldn’t be healthy, strong, and getting chubbier by the day, if not for formula. So, I will give them breastmilk when I can and formula when I can’t, and before I know it, they will no longer be babies, but full blown KIDS running around energetically and blowing me away with their smarts, just like my others.
All these little things that seemed so important will no longer matter. What will remain is LOVE.
Lucky for them, I have an endless supply of that.
Lucky for them, their mother is a rock star.