“You’ve got to be kidding. You can’t put two babies in the same crib!”
This is what I heard from about 6 months into my pregnancy until it was time to bring my twins home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Darnall Army Community Hospital (DACH) on Fort Hood.
Early in my pregnancy I made the decision that my twins would share a crib. This came from spending several months trying to figure out how I wanted to rearrange our den. We lived in a three-bedroom house just off of the military base in Texas at the time of the pregnancy. We already had an older child, our 7 year-old daughter, Autumn. I didn’t want the rest of the house so crowded that we had no place for the other things that we would need for the twins that the only place I could be with them was in their room. The compromise? My husband’s half of the office took over half of our bedroom, and my half remained. The idea? It would be more convenient for me to pay bills and catch up on emails and what not if I did it while holding one of the kids, or during feedings etc. Little did I know that twins would be much more of a handful than my singleton ever hoped to be.
So, we purchased one crib and one dresser. The hope was I would have two boys or two girls so I could just buy a little extra in clothing and they could share everything. The first big downfall to our attempt at conserving space? We had girl/boy twins. So, we adjusted our thinking and just split the drawers between them. Besides, many of their clothes were hung up and we had plenty of space in the closet for that as there were two full rods.
We were constantly criticized by friends and family for having made the decision to keep both kids in one crib. “There won’t be enough room,” “They deserve their own space,” “One is a girl and one is a boy, you’re setting a bad example,” were just a few of the comments we endured while I was pregnant. I was headstrong and insisted that this was what was best for our family. I insisted it would be fine. And I just shook my head when they brought up the babies would be opposite sexes. I mean really, what trouble are infants going to get into that I would need to worry about setting a bad example?
When my twins were born a full seven weeks early, I was too worried about them in the NICU to care what anyone thought about their sleeping arrangements. My daughter, Willow, was having apnea episodes but otherwise beautiful and healthy at 4 pounds, 4.5 ounces. My son, Jacob, however, was born with a lung condition common to preemies and unable to maintain his own body heat. He was 4 pounds and 9 ounces. First he was placed under an oxygen hood and fed intravenously. This lasted four days and his lungs cleared up and became strong. Then into an incubator he went. We could bring him out for short periods for feedings and bathing. He spent most of the three weeks he was in NICU at the hospital where they were born (we had them transferred to DACH, because it was close to home, they were actually born at a hospital in Temple, Texas due to lack of room in the NICU at DACH at the time of their birth).
Once they were transferred to DACH, the NICU team began swaddling the twins together in the same blanket. Jacob used Willow’s body heat to level out and maintain his own. We were allowed to bring them home 2 weeks later with the promise that I would continue to swaddle them for naps and bedtimes. This effectively ended everyone’s objections to my original plan of the twins sleeping in the same crib. Not only did they need to be in the same crib, but to keep my son home and out of the NICU, he needed to be wrapped up with his sister to maintain his body heat.
Since my children were very small they were able to continue to share their crib the entire first year of their life. This posed a few problems throughout the year. For one, when one would wake up, invariably they would wake the other. I felt it was important for them to learn to deal with this at a young age, so I dealt with it too. It made sleep easier as feeding may have taken a bit longer, but my periods of sleep in between were longer too.
Another issue that popped up was around the time they were able to move on their own. Willow became unable to sleep for long periods without movement. She would only sleep in a swing. Jacob was perfectly happy to go to sleep with rocking and stay that way until he needed to be fed. They were separated for the few months Willow required the motion. I worried that putting them back together would cause problems but it didn’t. Once they began babbling things were so much easier. They would babble to each other for 30 minutes to an hour before falling asleep or crying to be fed/changed.
When swaddling was no longer needed, I tried to give them more space by putting each on opposite ends of the cribs. Without fail they would scoot around in their sleep until they found each other and spent the rest of the night cuddled. I finally gave up and let them sleep next to each other until they were too big to fit the short way and then I put them back at opposite ends. Luckily this was only for a couple of months before they were moved out of the crib for good because they were starting to climb. I don’t like waiting for my children to climb out of the crib to move them into regular beds. If they can stand and begin to climb, I move them.
When they were getting ready to turn one, I purchased a bunk bed that could start out as two twin beds without anything dangerous sticking up or out from the bed. We set the beds up as twin beds with guard rails to start and put each kid in their own bed. It was very frustrating to find them in the same bed when we went to check on them. Eventually we gave up and decided they weren’t ready and just put them at opposite ends of one bed. This worked out pretty good for the next two years. The only problem I ran into was that Willow was a brat.
My twins were binky babies from the start. They loved their binkies and always wanted them in bed. I tried to save myself the frustration of lost binkies by getting those binky clips and attaching them to whatever the kids were wearing at the time. This was great for not losing the binkies. What I did not consider was my daughter’s emerging personality. Whenever Willow’s binky dropped out of her mouth, she didn’t bother getting upset — she would just pop Jacob’s out of his mouth and put it in hers. This was funny for a very short time, until she did it in the middle of the night and caused her brother — who was sleeping contentedly until this point — to wake up screaming.
The only other issue I had with them sharing a bed and a room at this age was also due to Willow and her precociousness. She began stripping herself down. I thought I had her stymied when I started putting her clothes on backwards so she couldn’t get to the buttons and zippers. N. O. P. E! Oh no, when she could not strip herself, she became quite adept at stripping her brother. This was merely frustrating for the most part…until the morning Jacob had a poopy diaper. THAT DAY it wasn’t so cute. They had both decided to paint with it. The entire room. UGH! Thank God that phase passed within a few months.
When they turned three, we decided that our older daughter should get the larger room since she spent a lot of time playing in there with her toys that couldn’t be out where the twins could get them (choking hazards and other dangers to toddlers). When we did this big change, we had to put the beds together as bunk beds. We decided to take this opportunity to get them into their own bed. It was rough going. Thank God Willow was so adventurous! She loved the top bunk, and to her credit, it took her adventurous spirit a few months of sleeping up there before figuring out she could pull Jacob’s mattress off the bottom bunk to give herself a safe landing for jumping off the top bunk! (Twiniversity note: Click here for the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on when and how to start using bunk beds.)
Willow and Jacob have shared everything since conception. The womb, a crib, a bed, a room, toys, their family, everything. They have had a few toys of their own. Other than a few bumps, and frustrations along the way, they have done so well. It was not until they began school (at almost 6 with such late births) that we started hearing about separate space. It was Jacob who began demanding his own space, a place to get away from his twin. This is understandable, if you know Willow. She is very clingy and loves attention. Plus she has always been an early riser and insists on waking up her twin to keep her entertained. I did not ignore my son’s request, but we live in a small three bedroom apartment now, and I do not have the space. Also, Willow was not ready for her own room. She stressed over the big move into her own room a lot.
The twins turned 10 in December of 2014 (born two days after Christmas). For their birthday, their big sister graciously gave up part of her room to move Willow in. This separated the twins, but gives Willow a part time roommate (Autumn is in high school and doesn’t mind sleeping on the couch if she feels she needs space from her sister.) The twins are thrilled to be in different rooms for once, and, surprisingly, have spent more time playing together and less time fighting in the last two weeks since the change. They take turns playing in each other’s room, making sure to ask each other’s permission to do so.
It has been a long journey, fraught with strange issues and a lot of love. But, I feel that my twins are as close as possible while maintaining their own identities from having this experience. It was worth all of the frustrations to see them playing together contentedly, and I would not do any of it differently, if given the chance and a larger home.
Kate Knott is a single mom of three, Autumn, 17, and Willow and Jacob who are 9. Kate works from home so she can home school her older child and be there when the twins get home. She is her children’s advocate in every way and has learned a lot about raising children with challenges along the way. Both of her girls are learning challenged and her son is gifted. All of them have different forms of ADHD on different levels. She has learned the hard way that you cannot parent all kids the same way and is constantly gathering new tools for her ‘toolbox’.