About 5 years ago, I wrote a ‘Herstory’ for the MVMOM newsletter about life as a mom to identical twin girls. I’ve since re-posted that on my blog if you would like to read it in full .
Only a few months after writing that, I became pregnant again. We figured that if we could survive twin girls with personalities and quirks as intense as theirs, we could survive just one of any kind of child for another go-around – and maybe even have a chance to enjoy it! We went for an early ultrasound, at the strong suggestion of our doctor.
We suspected nothing. I had said a prayer that the baby was healthy as we went in. I lay at on the examining table intently watching the TV screen. Mike, my dear hubby, sat faithfully by my side, thumbing through a magazine. The friendly tech doused me in the familiar warm goo and proceeded immediately. She was silent for a moment as she examined the screen, when I broke the silence, “Honey…does that look familiar to you?” I asked. He looked cluelessly up from his reading trying to get his bearing, and completely unaware what he was about to realize. “I see two big black jelly beans on that screen” I told him. The ultrasound tech jumped in to confirm my suspicions, “Two sacs, two heartbeats.” Just four words, cradling more meaning than we could wrap our heads around in that moment.
Even if you’ve had twins already before, or triplets, or quintuplets, or a single child – or 4 of them, you still don’t know what, or really, who, is coming and just what this will mean for the rest of your life. Let’s just say, we went ‘all in’ and were honored that God would let us have a chance to do this all again - and prayed for His compassion on our health and sanity and to give us the ability not only to survive, but maybe even to remember some of it this time! Though we certainly were a little nervous how that prayer would be answered.
All experienced parents like to claim that subsequent children are easier (after your firstborn(s)), simply because you are more experienced, more at ease and confident. While our little Nora and Stella (# 3 & #4) - were ‘easier’, I certainly don’t believe it had anything to do with my experience or change in attitude (ok, perhaps, but only a smidge!) In fact, we could tell in the hospital minutes after [a relatively easy and uneventful, yet induced birth at 38 weeks] how at ease they were with the world, happily nursing and sleeping. A ‘far cry’ from our experience the first time! But both times we felt so lucky, and blessed simply in that all our children, babies and mom, were healthy and well, not to mention that I had avoided my fear of having surgery. (All my birth stories are on my blog if you wish to read them, at www.tandemtwinning.com) But the real blessing was getting to do it all over again.
And get a do-over we did! Many things were different. Schedule, who needs that? We have nowhere to go! Instead of crying and fighting them to sleep in their cribs, I threw up the white flag and just brought them to bed with us. I was better rested, and better able to enjoy and remember mom-hood. Nora and Stella were learning some words before they were a year old and even would follow simple instructions I gave them. By the time they were 2, they were better at cleaning up and throwing away trash than their big sisters! They wore shoes for the first time without crying or refusing to walk and they would sit in a stroller or shopping cart happily for the entire trip. Things were oh-so very different…things were what a person would expect things to be like when you have two babies. We realized then, that the previous four years of life with our older children were certainly not ‘normal’.
When our first set of twins were babies and young kids, well-meaning people, family and friends and teachers told us ‘babies are just fussy’ and ‘it’s just a phase’ and ‘oh, the terrible 2’s!’ Others occasionally looked down their noses at us for not being able to control our 3, 4, and 5 year olds’ tantrums, or for not being able to get them to help during clean up time, or for their frustrated whining when they had to put on winter coats and boots. I changed diapers in public to avoid the loud hand dryers in the restroom. I was always 30 minutes late because that’s how long it took to buckle in that day, or get the sock seams just right. And I even left them in the car while getting milk at the gas station because I dreaded having to buckle back up again if I had brought her in! But the commentators who judged those deeds and attitudes were wrong. Our older girls were not in a phase, or ‘just picky’. They certainly were spirited, but it was more than that alone. They needed special help, attention and lots of patience and love and encouragement –and not a stronger hand that some suggested we were lacking.
Having another set of twins at this point, though that may sound a curse, it was a true blessing from above. I raised them much the same way as their older sisters, and in doing so, I realized that they were made of different dust. Like their sisters, their similar temperaments might be related to their similar genetics or their early environment. Not that they weren’t unique in and of themselves with their own personalities and preference, they certainly were – but they were fiercely more similar to their own twin than to their other siblings.
Members of MVMOM have approached me and tell me that they weren’t going to try for a #3 because they were afraid that they would end up like me, and have twins, again. But my claim is that stress, tears and sleepless nights do not correlate to number of children alone. Yes, it is true you have twice as many diapers and feeds to tend to. And two to keep an eye on and be sure they don’t tumble down the steps at grandma’s house. Two you have to carry if you are going to see the dolphin show, because strollers aren’t allowed. Two to buckle in and out of the stroller or cart while the other freezes in our -20 Minnesota winters. And it’s very difficult to take them swimming by yourself. But each child bares within her a soul, a soul that has no prototype and a body in which physical or mental handicap may not be readily discernable from personality. Certainly every time you bring a child into this world, you are submitting yourself to a higher power. Some parents are called upon to dedicate their lives to loving very fragile and needy little people through this life.
It was now that I understood why other mothers and teachers had made subtle, but accusing comments. Why some of my ‘friends’ gossiped about how ill-behaved my family was, and how ‘in over our heads’ we were or even tried their own hand at disciplining my kids. But they didn’t understand. They had but one, maybe two children years apart who could talk at age 2, who would respond to incentive and disincentive and who lived for their parents’ praise. They didn’t understand. They believed that if you train a child ‘the right way’, that child will turn out right. They didn’t understand what it is like to buckle Helen in. They didn’t understand what amazing effort it took to get Ingrid to sit in one place for an entire meal. Yes, it is still my job to teach those things, but it is not as simple as it was for them with their own children. They didn’t understand that the way which is right for their children, is not the way that is right for mine.
Did I mention that we have another baby (yes, just one!), Michelle, who turned one this month?! And for those things, I am so thankful. And I am thankful that I am free from guilt for my kids’ challenges. But neither can I take pride or credit in how great my kids behave or how they ‘turn out’. Rather, there is a way that is right for each child, and I am merely beating the bushes away, trying to find that path. For some children, the path is well worn, and obvious and easy to navigate. For others, you forge the path yourself because it has never before been done quite like this. You swing the machete through a thick forest, and often end up back-tracking to try a different route. But find the path for your child. Heck, make it if you have to and don’t feel insufficient because you have to work harder than others you see skipping down the wide path across the stream. Just know that you have been chosen for a special child who needs the patience, the wisdom, and the love that only you can provide.