Thursday, May 1, 2008

Large Families and Twins ~ Part Two

This is Part Two in a series with advice for large families who are expecting twins. You can read Part One Here.

Susanna's family was arranged like this at the time their twins were born: their other children were Boy 13, Boy 11, Boy 9.5, Girl 7.5, Girl almost 5, and Boy 14 months. Here is more of her advice for Twin Mommies with a house full.
During this time, just the mental pressure of having to think about where all the children were, what they were doing, what they were supposed to be doing and what I needed to do about it, took more from me than I had to give. This was wintertime and we have a very small house and don't use the TV or movies for babysitters, and we tried to keep up the homeschooling until the birth and start it up again a month afterward.

My mom went to be with the Lord in 1994, and she would have been my best helper - she started with twins and went on to have 9 children altogether. She was a very godly and wise and hardworking lady. Our church is elderly and small and 40 minutes away. My mother-in-law has allowed herself to get very obese and she's very self-centered and lazy, so even though we live next door to them, we received little help from her other than taking the other children while I was in the hospital. She said she hardly needed to do anything for them - they took care of everything themselves. My siblings that I'm close to all live very far away, and all our friends were pre-occupied with their own families.

Some did their best and some honestly let us down. It really is the grace of God in my heart that I am good friends with them now, as I struggled very much with resentment over this. I felt like a starving man who had to watch others eat a big meal in his presence without offering him any. I knew what the normal busy-ness of life was that they were facing, and I knew they were not trying to understand what we were going through. God has used this in our family since then to give us a strong desire to help people He brings across our path at the time they need it and not if/when it becomes convenient for us. Also, He showed us that we had neglected to pursue relationships with other families - we had no community, and since then He has opened up many opportunities that are still ongoing. So He used our troubles to bring good into our lives.

This is what I would do differently now that I know what it's like, if I had it to do again. I would approach one of my friends who is somewhat organized and willing, and ask her to be our Help Organizer (hereafter referred to as H.O.). I would give her a list of all potential helpers and their phone numbers, NOT email addresses. I've found that it's just human nature to ignore calls for help unless they are made personally, one on one. Make another list for your H.O. that includes all the tasks people could help with. Here's the suggested "script" for your H.O. to use: "I'm organizing help for Julie and her family - here's what they need - what would you be able to do to help them?" (NOT "Julie asked me if you could help"!) I'm acting as the H.O. for a friend right now. I've also recruited someone to be a H.O. for another friend who was too shy to ask herself. (Perhaps your husband would be able to make this phone call for you.) This method really works. I wish I had used it myself. For most of us, it is just impossible to ask for help, and this way, someone is being your advocate.

Here's a partial list to get you started, and please don't discount any of it without very careful thought. What you don't realize now is that normally small tasks will become HUGE. And remember that you will later regret any pickiness or pride on your part. This will only be for a limited period of time - eating less than healthily or having someone clean the floors with the bathroom cleaner or dress the little ones in mis-matched clothing or show them Veggie Tales videos will not make any difference later, but that help at that time will be worth more than gold. Resist the temptation to show everyone how much you can handle by yourself - you, your babies and your whole family will pay for it. If you are at all like me, you will be tempted to play the martyred heroine, but it is not worth it, because you will not just hurt yourself. I'm being brutally honest here!

Housecleaning - give specific tasks, for instance: Choose one: 1. Oven/stove 2. Fridge/freezer 3. Bathrooms 4. All floors in house 5. Under kitchen sink 6. Fingerprints/cobwebs/radiators & baseboards 7. Stickiness on all kitchen surfaces (cupboards, drawers, fridge, etc.) You get the idea. Leaving all this to the mercy of your children for weeks means you'll be facing it all in a couple of months, with very little available time to do anything other than the basic necessities.

Ironing - the girls and I wear skirts and dresses and my DH wears button shirts for work - 'nough said! My mother-in-law actually did this for us for two months (the only help she offered, unfortunately because she could do it at her house while watching soap operas - but what a wonderful help it was)!!

Food Shopping - Stopping at the grocery store for a few things on their way to visit you and your babies is a much-appreciated help that most people would be happy to do for you. If you shop at any out of the way specialty stores, like health food stores or bent and dent stores, let your H.O. know which of the folks on your list also shop there, so she can ask them for this service.

Children - Take your younger DC to a playground for the afternoon and clean them up afterward. Don't be too picky about naps or grass stains. Also, it's more helpful to have one older child home with you to save you steps. They can take turns doing this.

Laundry - Stain treat, launder & fold several loads of laundry, and while waiting for loads to run, oversee meals & naps & read to the children. Alternatively, they could take your laundry to their house.

Meals - More than one per person if possible, like one a month for three months. Do not be too picky here, as that really puts people off. Try to make it rewarding for them to help you. Ask them for their recipe if something is especially good.

Staple Food Prep - often overlooked, but so, so helpful - yeast bread, quick bread, bran and other muffins, granola, etc. You can give the H.O. your recipes for the volunteers to use if appropriate, and even the ingredients, if they have time, but not money to spare. Or it may be easier for someone to come to your house to make them.

A few thoughts on Dear Husband: I learned the hard way that I needed to make the extra effort to smile and thank him for everything he did to help, even when I was exhausted and weepy (which stage lasted several weeks for me). It's very easy to turn against each other under the enormous load and allow resentments to build up. Also, he had trouble before the birth imagining the postpartum time, and he downplayed the stories I'd heard. This encouraged me to do the same, and consequently, we were not really prepared for the intensity of what we would face. Now we know better!!! Now he's very enthusiastic about any and every opportunity I/we get to help other families that need it, especially twin situations.

In case this is scaring you, let me say that after the twins started nursing and sleeping through the night at 6 1/2 weeks (and I got more than the 4 1/2 broken hours of sleep out of every 24 hours that I'd gotten since their birth) the joy and fun began! Of course it is hard work, but so fun! All the horror stories I'd heard about months and months of sleepless nights and foggy days moving right into twin toddler terrors have simply not happened here. Many mothers who are ordinarily opposed to the idea of a routine for their babies are very receptive to it with twins, for the sake of keeping everyone sane! I've heard three types of stories. 1. "Wish I'd worked harder at establishing a routine...there was chaos for months on end..." 2. "We wouldn't have survived without a good routine...the routine helped my twins sleep through the night at 6 (or 8, or 10) weeks..." 3. (From moms who had no other children or who had live-in help for the long-term) "All I did for months was nurse babies...they still won't sleep all night at 10 (or 12 or 15) months..."

You may be one of those who is violently opposed to the idea, and if so, just take this as a charitable attempt to pass along what has been invaluable to me. If you are not opposed, but haven't ever tried it, I would highly recommend "Babywise" as a good place to start. We used the basic principles from "Babywise" for all 8 of ours and all of them slept through the night by eight weeks. It took twice as much effort with the twins, but I knew it would pay off doubly later, and it did! People who are unfamiliar with how the "Babywise" routine works think it means that you let your baby scream until the clock says it's feeding time. Nothing could be further from the truth! In reality, you are meeting your babies' need to eat before they have to ask for it, while gradually guiding their sleeping and eating into a predictable pattern. Almost all "Babywise" babies sleep through the night on their own by ten weeks, especially when the mother has been consistent from day one and guided the baby away from habits like snacking, catnaps, or sleep props. It doesn't take long for my babies to learn to love their beds when they are sleepy! It is not complicated - just a few simple things to remember - but everyone I've ever known in real life who has used it (at least 10 that I can think of quickly) has been so thankful for it, especially those who had previously tried it the other way and had long-term sleep issues to deal with later. By the way, it does include a chapter on multiples written by a mother of twins, triplets, and two singletons.

[Note from Julie ~ I  *do* normally cringe at the mention of "Babywise" materials (no links here... Google/research and come to your own conclusion, but we'll not discuss it on the blog). Having been a lactation counselor who was a  successful nursing Momma of many and being a past "Growing Kids God's Way" participant, I never felt that the two would mesh well. I am still not ready to drastically switch gears in my philosophy on nursing babies (which, incidentally is exactly in line with Shonda Parker's that is outlined in both _Mommy Diagnostics_ and _Naturally Healthy Pregnancy_), but I realize that having twins is a place I have never walked before, and that more structure may be necessary. I will play it by ear, taking cues from my Little Ones and my body. I mention this because I personally must remember that disagreeing with one issue is not reason enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Susanna has walked in a hard place that I have not yet, and I am wanting to be humble enough to listen.]

You mentioned having lots of people trained to change diapers. I much preferred to soak in time with the babies, care for them myself, and give them lots of loving. I didn't want them to get less of Mommy just because they were born together! I had my helpers (mostly my children) do other tasks. My time priorities went from youngest to oldest. The younger you are, the more slowly time seems to go. For our older ones, the whole 10 weeks of the worst time went fairly quickly. Does this make sense? Also, even when I still had to pump and bottle feed, I tried to do as much of the feeding skin to skin as I could manage. (This is also good for milk production hormones.) I just crammed as much affection as I could into every trip to the changing table or crib and into every diaper change - all the necessary stuff, since I didn't have the luxury of just sitting with them for very long! Actually, this seems obvious, but during the worst time, I was so exhausted that it took special effort.

Part Three to follow...


  1. btw, something else you might want to be prepared for with twins is prematurity and nursing difficulties. It's perfectly possible for them to be born at the right time and as wonderful nursers, but lots of twins are premies, and premies can be really sleepy/bad nursers at first. Just an encouragement that even if they can't nurse at first, they can learn. Mine took almost two months to learn (they were about 7 weeks early), but it was worth keeping up with pumping and bottles all that time, because now they're breastfeeding beautifully! Washing pump parts and bottle parts for two babies was awful, but it was worth it!

  2. oldpathsfamilyfarmMay 1, 2008 at 5:02 PM

    Oh Jessica! Thank you so much for advice like this! It is scary to think about, but necessary in order for me (and any other twin Mommy) to be prepared. I appreciate anything you can share.

  3. Hey Julie,

    Sounds so wise. I remember when she wrote some of these things on the Momys Digest. Excellent, excellent!

    And so, yeah, I won't discuss Ezzo. :) I believe that I feel the same as you...keep the concepts in your arsenal in case you need them, don't throw everything out, etc. Maybe you'll need them, maybe not.

    I think the difficult thing would be a nursing mom you don't really want the child to sleep through the night so early. It's just not good for baby nor for the milk supply. And yet, who knows? With twins you might determine that getting that sleep IS important enough that you encourage them toward at least longer sleep patterns. (Maybe 11p - 5a or so) and then hopefully you could catch some extra morning sleep too.

    Outside of twins, I've never really understood the push to get them to sleep solidly through the night at 8 weeks. I don't do that, yet with 8 children we don't have any with sleep issues. They sleep like LOGS!

    I HAVE been good friends with a woman who had twins...she successfully nursed both for 14 months. She nursed them at the same time, to save time. She just crossed their bodies over one another like a little "x" and fed them both. Since you've been successful with nursing, perhaps this will help with their scheduling and cutting down on time as well. I remember sitting down at the supper table with her and her family, while she nursed the twins, right there. No big deal to me, she was still discreet.

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing. I will keep it in my filing cabinet (mental and on-line) for other moms who have twins!

  4. I'm loving this series, thank you for sharing it with us. :-)

  5. Julie,
    One great thing about having twins after several other children have already been born is that there are many hands to help hold and love them. It doesn't all come from you and your husband. Your children will also pour into the little ones' lives which is wonderful all in itself, plus it gives you a chance for a bit of rest at times. Although I have never had twins, our last child was the 5th born to our family. Our oldest at the time 13 and our next child was 10. I got very sick after having the baby with strep throat and a terrible uterine infection. My older children saw the need and stepped up to the plate to fill in the gap that I just could not fill. (My husband had to return to work when our baby was 3 days old and I didn't get sick until he was 7 days old). Our oldest son likes staying up late and he told me he would sleep on the couch to listen for the baby. I would feed him and give him to Matthew and then I went to bed early. Matthew kept him and put him in his crib. When he heard him cry, he would bring him to me to nurse. Our second son is much more of a morning person. He was there to help with the baby during the morning hours so I could get rest. At first I felt guilty for needing the extra help, but then I realized that God was using it for good. He used that time to build a special bond between our older children and the new baby. Our "baby" is 4 years old, and that bond is still strong with him and our 2 older boys. The Word says that "He sets the solitary in families." You have quite the family there so enjoy the journey.
    grace and peace,

  6. I am enjoying this series and wanted to encourage you not to feel overwhelmed! I know you probably have "scary" moments as the reality of it all sinks in, but you are SO blessed to be having twins. Enjoy every minute and allow yourself time to revel.
    I trust you will be able to secure the help you need as the time grows closer.
    As a fellow past participant in a small group study of the Ezzo's methods, I have to agree with you. ('nuf said)
    I am so excited for you, Julie. May the Lord give you all the grace and peace you need. :-)

  7. oldpathsfamilyfarmMay 3, 2008 at 6:22 AM

    I have at times understood the desire to have them sleep through the night (grin) but I have never done it, either. First, I wouldn't know how, but then, even if I did I wouldn't because I really count on the lactation amenorrhea that I get from the nursing during the night.( I hope that doesn't offend any QF folks too much.) I actually got 12 months this last time... a record for us.

    I'm really glad you mentioned your friend who nursed so discreetly... I was worried about that part. I am kind of a prude... so being too uncovered in front of my boys would be creepy. The thought of the larceny the boys might be tempted to get into if I was absent to nurse that often was frightening (hee hee).

    Not that it takes much these days, but you got me weeping this morning. What a precious picture you painted for me... so, so encouraging! I am going to have my children read it.


    No, I had *not* heard of that book before. It sounds just right though. Anything that keeps me from having to re-think the wheel 100 times a day is helpful. I don't think on my feet well while sleep deprived, and routines - something to remind me what comes next- are a tool I really need. I'm gonna look into it. I appreciate your mentioning it!

    The encouragement to not feel overwhelmed is very timely. Phil & I just decided that I have no business reading the "twin" books that the midwife loaned me at night. Too tired, too emotional... too much information for that time of day.

    It is just like any other situation in life... the grace to walk in a place doesn't come until you're in that place. I appreciate every reminder. Thank you, Friend.

  8. About nursing discreetly - while I am of the mind that it doesn't matter around family (I think it's not bad for kids to know that that's what they're FOR - a good counter-model to the explotative stuff they'll see in the culture at large, e.g., magazine covers at the checkstand) - I did find one way to do it. Or at least MORE discreetly.

    If you're using a twin nursing pillow (I use the EZ 2 Nurse, and love it), you'll be nursing in a double football hold. Before you put your babies on the pillow, put a cloth diaper lengthwise to you (so it looks tall, not wide) on the very middle of the pillow. Then, after you latch your babies on (this part isn't so discreet, but doesn't last long), you can flip the tail of the cloth diaper over the babies' heads. So it'll be just curved over the top of their heads, if that makes sense. It shouldn't cover their faces, but it'll shield the view of you in between their heads, which is where anything that's going to show is really going to show (their heads will cover the side).

    I've only tried this once - when we had a guest who was NOT family over at the house - but it worked pretty well. I hope you find it helpful!

  9. Oh, to clarify: the bottom of the cloth diaper will be under your babies' heads (just barely - the edge of thier faces should be just touching each edge of it), and then the top of the cloth diaper will be curved over the top of their heads; sort of a c-shape.

  10. Hi ladies! I'd like to pipe in here to ask (for my own informal research purposes) if any of you actually used the Babywise plan consistently for at least several months before deciding it wasn't for you. As you can probably tell by now (!) I'm a very logical person, and I'm just plain curious to know if those of you who don't like Babywise made that decision based on previously-held beliefs or based on a fair triall. Being as familiar with the principles as I am, I'd say a fair trial of Babywise would be following their plan consistently for three months. I feel like it needs to be said that the criticisms I've heard over the years betray that the person is responding to their idea of what's in Babywise, without having read it, let alone tried it.

    In my experience, some babies fall into their own routine and hardly need any help, but some flounder.

    Also, my twins quit nursing at a week old, when my engorgement settled down and they had to work to get milk - basically an energy problem, even though they were only about a month early. We had a wonderful lactation consultant who gave us a plan to reach that goal, and loads of encouragement! She said that being early, being boys, and being twins were all factors in their troubles.

    At 6 weeks, I stopped waking the second baby during the night when the first woke to nurse, just in case they were getting close to sleeping through (most of ours were 6 weeks). This gave me enough of a taste of chaos - lol! Then at 6 1/2 weeks, I quit the bottles cold turkey, convinced that they were strong enough to nurse. By the next night, they were both nursing full speed ahead, and THAT night, they both slept through the night! The good nights of sleep actually increased my milk supply. We can look back at photos, and see skinny babies up until that time, then watch them fill out within a few days - amazing! They were taking a good amount in the bottles all along. (I could measure my supply, 'cause I still pumped at the ends of the feedings until the rental ran out) With herbs, good diet and good rest, I had no troubles with supply. I was still nursing them 7 times a day at a year old. I added solids at suppertime at 7 months, at lunch at 9 months, and at breakfast at 11 months. My first period didn't return until they were 12 1/2 months, and this was because I'd started the weaning process in hopes that I'd begin to ovulate. :-) (I did - and conceived #9 the next month!!!) This is just to clarify that having them sleep through the night was not in any way deleterious to my supply, nor did it bring on my cycles.

    I don't know if this is too long and I do hope I'm not offensive in any way, but it seemed like there were some possible misconceptions. I would say about Babywise what Shyla said about the other book - "It's not about the clock, it's more about a routine." Go figure! :-)

    Julie, if your back is strong, don't worry about the limitations I faced. Even when I'm nursing one, I have to have lots of back support. You'll figure out what works best for you. :-)

    Love to you all, and grace, and peace,


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