The first year was textbook. From the moment we found out we were expecting twins, I did everything by the book. Eggs for breakfast? Absolutely. 17 recommended vitamins? Without a doubt. Extra protein shake? Begrudgingly, yes.
So when the twins were born on time, via scheduled c-section, the year of the schedule began. Latch. Pump. Sleep. Repeat. Every 2-3 hours. Sleep training? Absolutely. I needed my babies to sleep even if I was still getting up to pump to keep up my supply.
To my surprise and joy, I had a relatively easy first year with twins. Our sleep and feeding schedule worked. They held hands when they slept. They were truly angel babies.
Then why did I feel so awful?
I kept a grueling schedule to try to breastfeed as long as possible, while also supplementing with formula. But by 9 months my body gave out. After recovering from breastfeeding, I still felt disconnected. Like a robot. I loved my babies more than I ever could have imagined, but I didn’t feel present. I felt like I worked at Amazon and had to keep everything on schedule or it would all fall apart.
At one year postpartum, I was diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease triggered by stress that caused my hair to fall out in patches. That led me to see a counselor so that I could properly deal with my new life of being a mom of twins while balancing my consulting business and living far away from family. While my babies were angels and I had so much love for them, I needed to break the cycle that I had created so that we could relax a bit and just be our unique selves.
At 15 months old one of my twins started therapy through early intervention for gross motor delays. She wasn’t attempting to stand, much less walk, and our lives went from routine to upside-down. Rushing her from specialist to specialist who speculated on what was wrong forced me to throw their schedule out the window. I went from auto-pilot to fierce momma bear, advocating for my little ones when the world was telling me to fear the unknown. Our schedule was no longer important; our little ones’ future became our focus.
At 18 months old, our little warrior took her first steps. After 3 months of early intervention, physical therapy and occupational therapy, and training her to walk with a harness, we were all there to witness the monumental occasion. With her twin sister by her side, our old rescue pup wagging his tail, and mom and dad in tears, she wobbled down the hallway. Text after text was sent, prayers answered.
And thus began our year of chaos. Toddler twins on the move are, in my opinion, more grueling than infant twins. But hey, I had it easy, so I’m sure everyone feels different about the most trying age of twin parenting (and I see all you parents of twin teenagers laughing at me, I know I’m in for it.)
From breast milk to homemade organic baby food, we moved to two-day-old chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. Our twins decided they would rather jump out of their cribs and it quickly forced us to transition to toddler beds earlier than we wished. Ice cream for dinner is no longer shocking and shortened naps are our norm because (obviously) scaling the bookshelf is more fun!
It’s exhausting. Truly. And maybe I’m more lenient on them than others because of all the obstacles we had to overcome the past year. But you know what? I’m present. And we love like crazy. I no longer feel like a robot. I often feel like a crazy person… but I’ll take that over the first year any day.
On days when the stress creeps in and I find myself starting to clean more, trying to stick to a schedule, and force a square into a circle, I just take a deep breath and jump into the mess with the kids. It’s easy to cave to expectations as parents or have the comments and advice of others wear off on you, but one thing is for certain: each day is different and the more I can learn to go with what comes my way, the happier, more present my whole little fam bam is.
Ultimately, I’m grateful for both experiences. I’m grateful for my sweet angel babies that everyone couldn’t get enough of, and I laugh because no one is lining up to babysit now that they are toddler “twinadoes”. I’m grateful that I had a healthy, smooth first year so that I could better deal with the curve balls that came our way the following year. And I’m grateful for unexpected challenges that snapped me out of my routine and made me become fully alive as a mother.
Through all these experiences I’ve learned to have grace and stop putting my expectations on other parents. After all, we never really know what someone is going through and we could all benefit from words of encouragement over discouragement.
Stefani Zimmerman Drake is a wife, twin mom and lover of rescue dogs. As a strategic communications consultant who runs her own business in Charleston, South Carolina, Stefani and her husband spend their time capturing all the sweet moments of their girls, while always dreaming about their next big adventure. You can follow their adventures online or via Instagram stories.