Here’s my dad confession: I have no idea what I’m doing. Not like a bumbling idiot caricature dad you see on commercials or in movies. Instead, I’m just a regular dad. Before kids I had no idea what it would be like or how hard it would be, but I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me from being the best parent I can be.
Having a kid lets you into this club that I didn’t know previously existed. You find out you’re having a baby or you decide to have a baby and it’s like you’re given this key that opens doors to places that either you often overlooked, like baby and kid stores, and this whole other side of bookstores and the internet. Having twins or multiples is like getting separate key that opens another door while you’re within the the initial “I have a kid” mysteryland. In spite of having no idea of what I’m doing, like many others, I must move on and do my best. While moving on you realize that, HEY! Those people over there have no idea what they’re doing either…probably. Or maybe that’s what I’ll tell myself, but I’m pretty sure they don’t.
I think it’s been this way since the dawn of time. It’s generation after generation of parents trying to figure out what the hell they’re doing. The way I see it some people are just better at faking it. What I do know is that there’s no book, no blog, no person, no amount of information that can actually prepare you for parenthood. I’m assuming that goes for both parents of singletons and multiples. You find articles and books, you read everything you can, you talk to everyone you know to try and prepare and guide you on your journey, but ultimately it’s only you and your partner that will make that journey. When it comes to raising our twin boys I don’t know what I would do without my wife and I’m fairly certain she wouldn’t know what to do without me.
I remember one of our last doctor visits before our boys were born. We were walking down the streets of New York City to the doctor’s office and as we waited for the cross walk an elderly man turned and kept eyeing my wife. He’d turn and glance, turn back, then turn and glance again. After a few times he walked over and said, “Any day now!” We awkwardly laughed and said “Yep!” Then we got the walk signal and parted ways. My wife said, “That happens all the time.” I couldn’t even understand, why or how people just have to say something. I get that they’re just trying to be nice, it just wasn’t something I could comprehend.
After that I noticed all of the stares she would get, all of the smiles, but mostly just gawking. It wasn’t until one of our first outings together after the babies were born, each with a baby in a wrap, all snug and tight, that it started happening to me. The stares, smiles and the comments. It started to feel like some sort of freak show. I know that people love babies, but something about twins makes people feel like they have the right to make comments or to point. There was one lady who had a cousin and her husband’s cousin or something, who knows, was a twin, and she had the nerve to ask for our emails so she could keep in contact! Oh, please random stranger, please email me with your crazy comments and stories. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that. As our boys get older they’re starting to look pretty different and we get fewer comments and questions. But we’re still navigating our way through this. Frankly, I’m not sure it’ll ever end.
Aside from being a freak show, sometimes there’s this feeling that I’m some how failing at being a parent. I read every book (or at least get books to read eventually. Who has time for reading?) And every book says one thing and then there are 5 other books on the same topic that tell you 5 other things. Which one do you believe?
For example: sleep. Ferberize? Weissbluth? Pick up? Don’t pick up? Stay in the room? Move bedtime 15 minutes forward, now 15 minutes backward, now spin around, jump three times and pray, drink whiskey (you, not the baby). Anyway, you pick one, but what do you do when they wake up in the middle of the night? What do you do with twins? I still don’t know. I’d hear or read about people who have twin babies that both sleep from 7pm to 7am. I’m not sure if I should strangle them or ask what witch doctor they went to. Or you hear, “If your child gets up at 5 am, get used to it. They’re not going back to sleep.”
I’m not even sure it matters any more. With two, it’s like some grand experiment. I’m still confused how we can have one that will actually sleep 7:30pm to 7am, but the other will sleep 7pm to 11pm, 11pm to 5am and if we’re lucky 5am to 6am – if we bring him into bed. Some nights are better than others; some nights we can get a stretch all the way to 5:30am, but it’s been a while. Something I’ve thought about recently is, sure, it’s not ideal waking up at 6 or 6:30am, but others probably have it worse. That and the fact that there’s an entire market of people to help your children sleep. Do you know what that means? Other people actually do have it much worse! I guess that’s a win. It was much easier when the “5 Ss” would work like some sort of black magic.
Maybe we were lucky we only had a slight scare at 32 weeks into the pregnancy and our boys were born at 35 weeks and 3 days. They only spent 19 hours in the NICU — an expensive 19 hours at that — but only 19. Touring the NICU helped, however it was still terrifying and heartbreaking in the NICU. Not just for us, but also the other parents there. Nothing can really prepare you for that. At 13 months one of our boys ended up with a bad chest cold, “bronchiolitis,” aka “we don’t really know, but we won’t call it asthma, but it could be, but we won’t know until he’s older.” We ended up doing two doctor visits in two days, a nebulizer and an annoyed child. A week later we went on a weekend trip a few hours away and we noticed the other twin started to show symptoms of bronchiolitis. Within a few hours of arriving we decided to head back home, give him a few treatments with the nebulizer, and he’ll be ok. Before we could even get on the road he was showing signs that he was having a hard time breathing. Instead of hitting the road, we hit the ER. They gave us a few albuterol treatments and sent us on our way with an inhaler. He screamed and cried the entire 3 hour drive home. It’s very unusual for him to act this way, but he was sick, so we sucked it up and powered through. The next morning he was even worse than the night before. My wife took him to the Pediatric ER, while I stayed home with the other boy and scrambled to find someone to come over and watch him at 8am.
These are the moments when we really wish we had family close by, but we do have some great friends and someone was over by 10am. I left for the ER and not long after I arrived they decided to admit him. We’re not health care professionals so we just assumed we’d be out later that afternoon. I called my mother-in-law and told her that they’re admitting him and they were going to put him on a BIPAP. Unlike us, my MIL is conveniently a pediatric pulmonary nurse and knew exactly what that meant and knew there was zero chance we were going home and she was getting the first flight out the following day. Little did we know this would turn into a week long hospital stay in the Pediatric ICU.
This was one of the most terrifying and trying times in my brief time as a father. There’s no preparing you for these times; there’s no books for week long hospital stays and if there was one why would I ever think to buy it? After the fact my wife and I talked about how hard it was – mentally, emotionally and physically. There’s no way we could have done it alone. Aside from the mental and emotional toll, we had to hold him all day and most of the night. He hated the mask on the BIPAP, it was too big for his face and the other mask was too small, he hated all of the cables and all of the doctors. Needless to say he cried endlessly. We’re lucky we have jobs that were understanding, but I really feel for all the parents who ever have to deal with these types of situations. Both in the NICU and the PICU are harsh realities that our little ones are fragile and I’d never wish hospital stays, no matter how short, on anyone.
We’re of the age where our peers are getting married and having babies, or at least a baby. Everyone always says, “I don’t know how you do it.” That always kind of baffles me, I mean, we do what we do because we have to. I may not know what I’m doing, but I sure try to do what logically makes the most sense. There’s one thing I’m glad about having twins, at least having twins as our first children. We don’t know any better. We have no clue what it’s like with a singleton, though we wonder often. Not because we want a singleton, but because we’re confused why parents with a singleton are always so overwhelmed. C’mon, it’s just one baby. Honestly, one of the hardest things about twins for us isn’t that we don’t know what we’re doing. It’s just the sheer amount of work and the time involved doing whatever task at hand. Changing two diapers, feeding two babies, giving two babies a bath (they’re old enough now we put them in together, which is a total win), bedtimes and naps, getting dressed, socks, shoes, car seats, strollers, putting socks and shoes back on – whatever it is it just takes longer. I don’t think people quite understand what it takes just to get out of the house. It’s exhausting. Aside from all the time and work involved with raising two, it takes a lot of money. We’re by no means rich and babies in general are expensive, but with having two the on going costs add up quickly! Child care, diapers, food, milk, clothes, you name it. Sure, having two singletons years apart you accrue some of the same costs, but it’s over time. With twins it’s like hemorrhaging money. Maybe it’s not so baffling when people say, “I don’t know how you do it.” How do we do it?
However, with all time and money that goes into twins I still see benefits. Maybe it’s me just trying to put a positive spin on it. I like to think of it this way – with twins is like an upfront investment of time. With two singletons, parents are changing diapers for 6 years straight. With twins you’re out of diapers in 3 years. It’s not just diapers, it’s nearly the exact same list of everything that’s takes so long to do. It’s a great tradeoff. Just think of it this way – say a friend had a baby the exact same day you had twins, two years later they have another kid and 2 years later you all go to Disney World. Guess who wins? Twins. You know why? Because you have two four-year-olds that can do all the fun stuff with both parents. Who am I kidding? Everybody wins at Disney. If only my wife would ride Splash Mountain. That’s OK, the three of us will ride while she waits.
Just because I don’t know what I’m doing doesn’t mean I can’t figure it out or that I’m the bumbling idiot father you see on TV. Before our twins were born I was extremely worried. Probably the same worries that most parents have prior to having kids – What do I do? How will I do this thing or that? Will I be a good parent? A friend told me something that I will never forget and try and tell most new parents: “People have been having children for thousands of years and you’re not doing anything completely groundbreaking. You’ll be OK. There are horrible parents in the world that neglect their children and that’s an unfortunate reality, but you’re the kind of parent that will buy parenting books, at least with intention to read it, even if you don’t. That shows you already love them and will do great as a parent.” Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it takes a lot of time and money. Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to be a great parent, to be a great dad. I can’t say that I’m a great dad or that I know what I’m doing. What I do know is that things change fast… and I’m adapting as fast as I can.
Jeremy Umali is father of twin 1 year old boys. During the day he works on servers at a university and at night he’s changing diapers, building forts out of couch cushions and making dinner. He’s excited to share his passions of music, the outdoors and television with his kids. Jeremy’s a southern boy who dreamed of nights in NYC. He and his wife are raising their boys in Brooklyn, NY. Where the nights he dreamed of have come and gone and have been replaced with crying babies and lack of sleep.
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Are you a new twin parent? Check out Natalie Diaz’s new book “What To Do When You’re Having Two: The Twin Survival Guide From Pregnancy Through the First Year”, available in stores now!
The rate of twin births has risen 79 percent over the last three decades, and continues to increase. A mom of fraternal twins and a national guru on having two, Natalie Diaz launched Twiniversity, a supportive website with advice from the twin-trenches.
What to Do When You’re Having Two is the definitive how-to guide to parenting twins, covering how to make a Birth Plan checklist, sticking to one sleep schedule, managing double-duty breastfeeding, stocking up on all the necessary gear, building one-on-one relationships with each child, and more.
Accessible and informative, What to Do When You’re Having Two is the must-have manual for all parents of twins.