The Big Rediscovery: Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

I’m a mother of twins. Plus two. And I just turned 40.

Sigh…

Y’all—I have to tell you that I was NOT excited about leaving my 30s behind. I grew up with those old-school thoughts whispering in my ear. Advice like, “You know, once you turn 40, you need to cut your hair short because you’re not fooling anyone.” Or, “Your hemline should be knee-length, now, dear… you wouldn’t want your knees to show your age!” Couple that with being a mother of multiples, and I’m thinking about those again-whispered chatters: “Oh, would you look at her… she really let herself go since having children,” and “She used to be so pretty, but the kids have just worn her out.”

Aaahhhhh! Can I wake up from this now? Please?

“She let herself go.” We all swear we’re not going to do it, don’t we? We’ll never be that frumpy mom who simply gives up—no, we will defy all of that and remain ageless. But then the children come, life happens, and we’re exhausted. There have been days that I’ve done well to put a brush through my hair or wear a shirt to work (see my Twiniversity Confessions article for deets on THAT epic fail). I’ve cut my hair short because I figured it was better to have a look I didn’t rock so much than to wear my hair in a perpetual pony on the daily. It was easier that way. Easy equals happy, right? Besides, who needs to focus on themselves when there’s mothering to do?

Ummm… I do. And so do you.

We don’t sleep. The stress of multiples is sometimes so unbearable that we think we’ve reached the brink of buckling under all the weight that entails. We eat what we can grab quickly. Exercise? Hahahaha… good one! Simply put, we’re in survival mode. You’re nodding right now, aren’t you? Because you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now. Just trying to make it to bedtime, and praying you can get some sleep. And a real kicker to all this? All that lack of sleep, all that stress, all that fast food… ALL OF THAT does a phenomenal job of taking a toll on how we feel, how we look, and it grinds away at us little by little until we bend to the point of breaking. We start caring less about the things that once excited us. We start to lose something. We love our children more than life itself, but we’ve lost ourselves in this constant struggle to simply survive each day. We lose our spark—that inanimate thing that makes you YOU. Do you ever miss yourself? The person you were before life happened? I know I did, and it made me extraordinarily sad. I had lost my identity. I was a wife. A mother. A professional. I was so busy being those things, that I wasn’t Stacey anymore. I could barely even remember knowing who she was… and that scared me.

My father championed me in my quest to be fearless, independent, and fiery. He loved my sassy nature and the fact that I danced to my own drumbeat. But, I lost him at the end of last year, and I’m navigating my first several months of not having my first fan and supporter at my side, helping me to remember the woman I was. My husband is a remarkable one, but he’s caught up in life too—we all are. My journey to rediscovery had to be one I took alone.

There are so many facets to us as mothers, and my journey won’t be the same as yours. My priorities aren’t the same. You and I will see things differently, and hold different things as important. Find YOUR spark… rediscover and, more importantly, RECLAIM that which makes you you.

The Big Rediscovery: Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

The Big Rediscovery: Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

I had really fallen back in the looks department. I gained weight from poor eating. I used to be a runner, but now I felt gross and lethargic from no exercise. I had a “twin tummy” that so many of us do. I chopped my hair and went to a dark color for the sake of simplicity. I wore clothes that I hated, and I lacked sparkle—I no longer did the things that ignited my soul. I wasn’t excited about anything, and nothing challenged me. I felt so empty. I loved my family… but I’d lost myself.

One thing I strongly encourage is to always seek out those who are smarter than you. For me, that’s not so hard. Haha. I wanted to know what moms of multiples can do to improve themselves. I thought about what my passions had been pre-children. I read, I conducted interviews, I booked appointments, and I tried a few of these ideas for myself. I won’t say that everything is 100% A-OK now, but I’m definitely on the right track. What works for you will be vastly different—reclaiming yourself certainly is not a one-size-fits all proposition.

Hair & Skin

First, I wanted to try a few non- or low-invasive things that would improve the way I look. I put the blonde back in my hair. I let it grow again. I learned more about styling products that best suited my type of hair.

I also sought the advice of my dermatologist, Dr. Linda M. Cooke, M.D., FAAD. She owns Riverside Dermatology in Hannibal, Missouri. She is brilliant in general and cosmetic dermatology. As her patient, I will tell you that she is absolutely gifted in the areas of science and art and she’s the mother of 6, including twins! I asked her some questions and her insight is extremely valuable.

Me: You’re a mother of twins plus 4! Plus, you run an insanely successful practice. How do you do it? How do you balance work and family?

Dr. Cooke:  I think the balancing comes from having a strong bond with your husband and really being a team when it comes to tackling all that comes with having a family and work. Also, if you can afford to pay someone to clean the house, it is worth every penny!  We do most of the household chores together as a family, so instead of them feeling like painful chores, it is some family time too.

Me: Talk to me about health. What are your top one or two recommendations for keeping skin healthy?

Dr. Cooke: This is easy: sunscreen/sun protection every single day and a retinoid (prescription or dispensed through a Dermatologist) at night. Sun damage is cumulative and preventing it makes a huge difference in how your skin will age. The retinoid will smooth the stratum corneum/speed cell turnover giving a youthful glow, evening discoloration; it will boost collagen production which helps with wrinkle prevention & reduction, and it unclogs pores.

Me: Thinking back to when your twins were newborns, infants, and toddlers, what is a good basic skin care routine that an exhausted mother can do?

Dr. Cooke: You’re so busy and so tired with young twins! I’d go back to my previous response. If you use a tinted sunscreen, it can act as a moisturizer, light makeup, and sunscreen! You should not use the retinoid while pregnant, but may when breastfeeding. There isn’t much data, but the risk is deemed very low due to minimal maternal absorption.

Me: Let’s discuss the face– what are some popular treatments for women aged 35-50? Why are these a good idea?

Dr. Cooke: Collagen starts to noticeably decrease in the late 30s resulting in fine lines and wrinkles. Neuromodulators like Botox, Dysport or Xeomin are usually the first injectable used for these early signs or aging. Chemical peels, mild lasers like Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) help with pigment changes or blood vessels that appear on the face. Deeper lines or more collagen loss is addressed with fractionated lasers. These help pigment, tone, texture and wrinkles. Chemical peels and lasers are good for your skin in the hands of an experienced provider. Radio-frequency or focused ultrasound can be used to tighten the skin around the eyes, face and neck. Focused ultrasound can be used on the décolleté and other body areas. Fillers can be used for cheeks and lips to add volume back where collagen has been gradually lost.  Good skin care should ideally begin in the mid-thirties. Also after babies, CoolSculpting which freezes trouble areas of fat (love handles, belly, thighs) is popular in that age range.

Me: I know there are some remarkable services available for the body! Can you talk about those?

Dr. Cooke: CoolSculpting for fat reduction in trouble areas. Applicators address double chin, arms, belly, flanks, thighs, saddlebags, & love handles. Ultherapy is powerful, focused ultrasound for skin tightening of face, neck, décolleté, elbows, knee skin & even thighs. Thermi is radiofrequency & also for skin tightening. It can be used to strengthen the pelvic floor tissue which is helpful after vaginal delivery & aging. It even helps with urinary incontinence. There’s a newer device called EmSculpt that helps to build muscle and lose fat! I don’t have it yet, as it is very expensive and I’m not sure if it will ‘catch on’ here. It sends stimulation to your abs resulting in intense, rapid contractions. It’s like doing 1000 sit-ups in 20 minutes.

Me: Is there anything else that you would like to tell Twiniversity readers?

Dr. Cooke: The only thing I would add is that women tend to put themselves last, which often means our needs don’t get addressed in the course of a busy day, week, months! I think young moms and working women should do one thing a day just for themselves. Simple things like using a nice face or body wash in the shower, applying a calming or refreshing essential oil to your wrists, taking time to moisturize well. Treat yourself to a facial or massage once a month…better yet, ask & receive it as a gift!

I have treated myself to some of these interventions discussed by Dr. Cooke. One such intervention is Kybella. It’s slightly similar to Coolsculpting, in that is targets fat in a problem area, but it’s done using injections. I did this under my chin, and after two treatments, I do notice that my jawline is much sharper! The best part is that the fat is gone permanently. I’ve also had Thermi done around my eyes, and it is a comfortable and pleasant experience. Finally, Dr. Cooke did some Restylane Refyne in my nasolabial folds and lips, and I’ve been extremely happy with the result.

Again, these treatments may or may not be for you—we all have different problem areas, different priorities, and different ways of feeling better about ourselves. I am including a couple of photos, during my lip injections, and the results after. I was very pleased.

 woman getting lip injection Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

woman's face after lip injections Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

Have you ever noticed that it seems like men age so much better than women? As if periods and childbirth aren’t punishment enough for being female, it seems we tend to also not age as well. It could be some inherent evolutionary injustice, or, it could be something else—it could simply be a matter of exfoliation. Just hear me out for a second, because I KNOW you’re saying, “Okay, Stace– my husband does NOT exfoliate.” Well, maybe not. But I bet he does without realizing it. When men shave, exfoliation is exactly what they’re doing! And they’re doing it daily, renewing and replacing their skin cells at a much faster rate than we do. Even if they’re fully bearded, that thick facial hair is providing protection to their faces that we’re often not getting ourselves! To address this, one thing I’ve added to my beauty regimen is microdermabrasion. I use a home microdermabrasion system from Neutrogena, and I’ve seen a noticeable difference in my skin, both in person and in photos. My skin is smoother and more youthful looking, and I’m not turning back. I do it 2-3 times a week.

Another fabulous and time-saving treatment I’ve done for years is laser hair removal. While it won’t make much of a difference in how you look, it can make a marked difference in how you feel. I’ve had my underarms and bikini area completely hair-free for several years, and it saves lots of time in the shower because I’m not shaving. Not to mention, that there’s no issue with ingrown hairs, which is a real pain, in a literal sense.

Finally, as far as my face is concerned, I enlisted the help of professional makeup artist Aurora Lord, co-founder of Makeup Artistry by A & C in St. Louis. Rory’s body of work is pretty impressive, and she did an amazing job of teaching me the best products and application techniques for my particular features. Getting her help was a game-changer.

Cosmetic Procedures – the “Mommy Makeover”

One MAJOR concern for Moms of Multiples is the twin tummy. Noooo! It’s horrible, right?! Exercise can only do so much to address that nonsense. Many moms of multis DREAM of a solution to this in the form of a tummy tuck or a mommy makeover. To provide you with the most current information on this topic, I researched and interviewed Dr. Christian Prada, MD, FACS, a cosmetic surgeon with St. Louis Cosmetic Surgery. It’s a known fact that when the ladies in my area quietly exchange information about their “Pradas,” they’re not referring to shoes.  Dr. Prada transforms women’s lives every day with his talent. Here, he provides us with valuable insight.

Me: What are the most popular cosmetic procedures for women after having twins or multiples?

Dr. Prada: Most patients after having twins have significant skin and muscle laxity to their abdomen.  They also may have a deflationary effect or sagging to their breasts.  An abdominoplasty with or without a breast lift/augmentation can help bring these patients back to their pre-pregnancy look.

Me: What does a Mommy Makeover consist of?

Dr. Prada: A Mommy Makeover most often includes an abdominoplasty and breast procedure with liposuction, if needed.  By combining these procedures, patients save operative costs, OR costs and have a single recovery.

Me: What is the difference between a breast lift and a breast augmentation?

Dr. Prada: A Breast lift procedure is needed when the breasts tissue and often the nipple hang below the breasts crease.  An implant is often used to increase the overall size, and more importantly, to improve the upper pole fullness of the breast.  A lift alone does not give the patient that upper fullness they often desire, and therefore, an implant is placed at the same time.

Me: What does a Tummy Tuck consist of?

Dr. Prada: A Tummy Tuck, otherwise known as an abdominoplasty, is a procedure that addresses three areas on the abdomen. Loose skin. Excess Fat. And lax abdominal muscles (diastasis).

Me: Should I wait until I’m finished having children before having any of these procedures? If so, how long is best to wait after giving birth for the last time before undergoing a Mommy Makeover surgery?

Dr. Prada: Most patients are advised to wait until after having kids to have a tummy tuck.  Subsequent pregnancies can diminish the overall results after surgery. In terms of breast augmentations and lifts, these are often performed prior to pregnancy since the post-pregnancy changes are harder to predict. Patients should be advised that changes may take place, and revisionary surgeries may be needed.

Me: What is recovery like for a “Mommy Makeover”? What about mothers of young twins– can they still take care of their children during recovery, or would it be best to have help for a while afterward?

Dr. Prada: Most patients are back to work within 9-10 days and fully recovered within 6 weeks. I suggest that patients have some assistance for the first week after surgery and limit heavy lifting for 6 weeks.  Lifting infants under 20 pounds is acceptable within the first 6 weeks.

Me: Regarding breast augmentation– how big of a difference can I expect to have? What kind of size change do women typically see?

Dr. Prada: On the day of the consultation a 3D image is performed to show patients what they will likely look like after the augmentation. At the pre-op visit, implant sizing is done with a bra a prosthetic in addition, so the patient can get a better idea of what they will look like.  Both of these steps are necessary to provide the right implant size for the patient.

Me: What are some risks associated with getting a Mommy Makeover?

Dr. Prada: Risks are relatively low after a Mommy Makeover.  Patients have a 1-2% risk of a bleed that may require a return to the operating room, 1% risk of an infection, Less than 1% risk of a blood clot, minor or major wound healing issues, capsular contracture (firmness to the implant capsule), loss of nipple sensitivity. In my practice, patients are placed on a blood thinner to reduce the risk of a DVT (blood clot) and antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.

Me: What are some women surprised about after surgery?

Dr. Prada: Most women are stunned to see how amazing their results are!

Me: Who is a good candidate for a Mommy Makeover?

Dr. Prada: Most women are good candidates if they are healthy, non-smokers. I don’t discriminate by age, and as a matter of fact, performed a mommy makeover (grandma) this week on a 73-year-old very healthy patient. Patients are encouraged to get as close to their ideal body weight as possible, in order to give them the best post-op outcome.

woman with doctor Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

For some women, the changes they see to their bodies after having twins or more really affects their lives. Additionally, it’s extremely common for Moms of Multiples to experience diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles separate. If a Mommy Makeover is something that is vital for you to feel your best, and you have the financial means to do it, then go for it! Locate a reputable doctor. Talk to friends, look through the doctor’s before and after photos, and make sure your doctor is board-certified. Book a consultation, and see if your surgeon makes realistic assurances— the surgeon can only promise so much, given each woman’s unique body.

Mental Stimulation

The journey to reclaiming yourself may have LITTLE TO NOTHING to do with your looks! Maybe it’s more intellectual. Do you feel like your brain is in the process of atrophy because the only stimulation it gets are endless cartoons? Or maybe reading Pat The Bunny over and over again just isn’t challenging your mind enough. Something as enormous as going back to school for that graduate degree may be overwhelming right now. If you can, though, I can’t say it enough—DO IT. Do it. Now is better than later. If you have the money or the ability to repay student loans, help with the children, and significant support—do it.

But, SO many women cannot go back to school, or maybe you simply don’t want to. That’s okay. Learning for the sake of learning is a beautiful thing! There’s nothing that says you can’t read about veganism, politics, sustainable marketing, or biomes aloud to your babies as you feed them. There’s no reason you can’t access free online classes through universities if that’s what will help you feel like yourself again. A few years ago, I took some free online classes through Harvard University about World War II, a topic that I find fascinating. It was fun but low-stress, because I was learning for the sake of learning. No papers, no presentations, no grades. If you’re interested in a similar experience, explore what Harvard University has to offer at https://www.edx.org/school/harvardx.

Taking Care of Your Body

Finally, our health is of paramount importance, ladies. You can do every single thing I’ve discussed above, but if you’re not taking care of your body, it’s all for nothing. I saw something on Pinterest once that said something to the effect of “Take care of your body. If you don’t then where are you going to live?” I love that. I’d read a study when I was pregnant with my multiples that said that women who conceive twins are likely to live longer. Great news, am I right? Now that I’ve survived the newborn and infancy stages, though, I wonder how that’s possible because I treated my body like a dumpster. I ate whatever I could get quickly, and I never ever exercised. I was too tired and too busy! My twins just are 3 now, and I am doing a much better job in both departments. I’m eating more plants and fewer empty carbohydrates. I’m running again, and I’m getting back to my weight before I had any children at all. It’s homeostasis for my body—this is where my body is the happiest.

Another thing I wanted to return to is dancing. I’ve danced since I was 4, and I stopped after I got married and had children. Activities like dancing are great for your mind and body! You hone a skill while strengthening your core, burning a few calories, and improving your hormones and overall balance. It had been a long while since I really danced last, so I knew I needed to brush up on basic skills (falap-ball-change, anyone?) but I was interested in learning new stuff too! Nikki McElvain, owner of Dance Pizazz in St. Peters, a suburb of St. Louis, was gracious enough to allow me to come to her studio and learn new dances. I’ve always liked Latin Dancing, and I decided to explore that further. At the end of each experience, I had put in one hell of a workout, plus I was learning new and beautiful ways to move and improve my body! What’s a bigger ego boost than that?!

dancing Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

Then I wanted something completely new. I wanted to learn a new skill, but also work my body. I wanted to go WAY outside my comfort zone and do something I’d never done before. For me, it was boxing. Old school, Muhammad Ali-style boxing. I called in advance, not knowing what I would need to bring to my first lesson. My friend came with me, and we took boxing lessons at Title Boxing in Cottleville, another St. Louis suburb. And you know what? We got pretty good at it by the end of the first lesson! And it was FUN. And it was EMPOWERING. We both felt like total badasses by the end of class. Tired, but fierce. My muscles hurt in places I didn’t even realize existed, but it felt SO good. What’s something you’d like to learn that would challenge your mind and body? If possible, just go do it! Even if you make a complete fool of yourself, you’ll never see those people again, so who cares?

woman hitting a punching bag Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

woman with boxing gloves Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

The process of reclaiming yourself is unique, and yours will not look the same as mine. I’ve included photos of my experience throughout this process, and you can see the marked difference between what I looked like six years ago and what I look like now. I take care of myself again. I chase that which excites me. And I’m a better wife and mother for it. As the final part of this “Reclaim Yourself” project, we did a photoshoot at StL Motorcars, a luxury car dealership in the St. Louis area. There, among the most beautiful machines in the world, we documented the conclusion of this project. Stephanie Siefkas, owner of SV Siefkas Photography, was excited to participate in this project, because as a mother, she too knows that feeling of losing yourself, and she is in the process of reclaiming herself. She hikes and follows a vegan lifestyle. Stephanie does Stephanie. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

woman sitting in car Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

woman stepping out of car Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

woman sitting in car Reclaiming Yourself After Twins

Love your partner. Love your twins. Love yourself.

Stacey Bibb lives in the St. Louis area with her husband Ryan, their 7-year-old son Philip, their 4-year-old son Jack, and 18-month-old boy/girl twins Conor and Jorie. She works as a psychological examiner, and she and her husband run a funeral home! She loves traveling, sports, survival, and Starbucks. She is especially excited on days that she manages to arrive at work with her hair done and an outfit that actually coordinates.

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