Every book on twin parenting you will read will tell you to “get help”. OK. Help? So, like, have someone come in and tidy up the place once in a while? How much help are we talking here? On a scale from I-must-do-everything-on-my-own to dear-Lord-send-for-the-cavalry — how much help should I get? Honestly, it will be different for every person. No two moms are the same. But for me I ended up needing a lot of help. That doesn’t mean YOU will also need a lot of help, but as a new parent of multiples you might need to change your mindset a little on being too proud to ask for help.
Let me explain. Before I had twins, I rarely asked for help. I was a classic independent woman — making plans, taking care of business, and getting it done with time to spare. Any plan I made I would do the way I wanted it, on my own timeline, and usually all by myself — and that’s how I liked it! I loved the surge of excitement after finishing a big project all by myself. I’d get a rush!
The moment I became a twin mom I had a big reality check. During my recovery in the hospital from my double-whammy birth (vaginal and c-section… woof!) I found I couldn’t sleep and was wrecked with postpartum anxiety. I had thoughts swirling in my head of, “What am I going to do? I don’t know what I’m doing…” I had absolutely no clue how I was going to go home and take care of these babies. I took every class imaginable, read every twin book I could find, and I still was a mess of fear and anxiety. It was on day 3 in the hospital that I finally caved. I asked the nurse to get me some anxiety meds and my mom and I made a plan.
My mom really saved me in those confusing and exhausting days in the hospital. When I was so full of stress and anxiety that I didn’t know where to start, she reached out and pulled me in the right direction. More like YANKED me in the right direction — without her insisting I needed help I probably would not have reached out for it. That night nanny I was convinced we wouldn’t need? (or rather, couldn’t afford, so I convinced myself I didn’t need?) My mom got on the horn and found me someone who was available immediately. She called everyone who was planning to give us a gift after the birth and asked them to instead give us cash towards the nanny. And they did!
We arrived home in the late afternoon of day 5 with both twins in tow and our dear friend (a mom of 2 kids herself) was there waiting for us to point us in the right direction. And thank God for her! Because we didn’t really know what to do with the babies once we walked in the door. I was so sore from my c-section and still exhausted from not sleeping much and all I wanted to do was lay down. And that’s exactly what I did. She sent me away while she and my husband set up our bouncy chair and swing so we’d have somewhere to put them in the living room (these items were still in boxes in the basement — be sure to set those up beforehand!) She brought me my pain meds, a big glass of water, and told me to sleep. She was an angel sent from heaven!
The kicker is that I never asked her to come and help us. She volunteered. She knew what I didn’t know at the time — that this was going to be hard and it would help to have someone with experience to get us settled in. I don’t know what I would have done without her. Oh yeah, and she walked me through making formula for the first time. (Another tip, ladies — practice making formula BEFORE your babies come home, even if you plan on breastfeeding…) The night nanny showed up that first night and thanks to that nap I was able to better function for her orientation.
The next morning and for the next 10 weeks, Monday through Friday, my mother was there from 8 am – 5 pm (or later), helping me to establish a routine, feed the babies, wash the dishes, give me breaks, and pretty much take care of me — her baby — as I took care of my babies. And in the evenings, when one of the twins was screaming bloody murder and nothing me or my husband did could calm him, I’d call her sobbing into the phone and she’d rush over and save me, doing her patented “shush shush shush”/bounce/sway routine until he fell asleep. And when I went back to work, she took over as the primary caretaker, raising my boys at her home while I worked and she hired a part-time babysitter to help her out at her own cost (knowing we could not afford it with my husband’s job loss). If my friend is my angel, my mother is my savior. She was always there to make suggestions I would have never thought of, urge me to try new things when whatever I was doing clearly wasn’t working, and stepped back to let me take the lead when she knew I was confident enough to do so.
I made the decision while in the hospital to seek out a therapist who specialized in postpartum anxiety and depression. I was lucky to find an incredible therapist who I visited weekly for the first few weeks, and then bi-weekly over the course of the year. She is another one of my saviors. I was able to talk through my fears and anxiety, and she helped me create strategies to deal with these, as well as practical tools to help me manage my situation and tackle problems that arose. I have no shame in the fact that I sought out therapy for this time in my life. I believe it made me a stronger mother and I encourage anyone to seek out this treatment if you think it might help.
Another major help that got us through the first couple of weeks with the twins — another close friend coordinated a Meal Train to get our friends/family to bring us home-cooked or take-out meals every other night for the first 6 weeks. It was brilliant! I could check the website on my phone while pumping to see that so-and-so would be bringing me a lasagna at 5 pm, or that dear-friend-living-in-Connecticut called in Chinese delivery that would arrive at our door that night. Not having to worry about meals was a HUGE help.
I am very lucky that I have many wonderful people in my life that knew me better than I knew myself and forced their help upon me. Because I needed their help more than I ever have before and they truly saved me. My dear friend who saved us that first night home continues to come over now and then to help us with dinner/bedtime and give us a little bit of a break, and then we order take-out and drink wine once the kids are down. It’s a really nice thing that eases some of the stress and gives us some “grown-up time” with a good friend.
So here I am. With 13-month-old twins and I am STILL asking for help! And I’m getting pretty good at it. The hardest part is letting go and believing that I’m still a good mom, even though I’m not doing it all on my own. And that’s the thing — if it truly “takes a village to raise a child”, then I really SHOULDN’T try to do it all on my own. My children will benefit from a community supporting them and nurturing them. There is so much strength in admitting that you need help. You are looking out for your babies, your home, your marriage, and most importantly — YOU. I always say if Mommy isn’t happy, no one is happy.
In short, call every reliable friend, family member and neighbor you know and let them know you will need their help. Meals, laundry, dog-walking, lawn-mowing, snow shoveling, tidying up, buying groceries, doing dishes — 99% of the time they will be happy to help in any way you need them to. But you have to ask because they will assume you don’t need their help if you don’t say something. It will be very humbling to do this. It still kills me when I have to ask my dad to come over and baby-proof yet another thing in my house! But he is good at that kind of stuff and I’ve got a million other things on my plate, so I ask. And he always says yes. And with every “yes” I feel a tiny weight lifted off my already heavy shoulders that makes it all worth it.
Now if you are in a situation where you don’t have anyone to help you — just know that everything is going to be OK. Having help is really great, but if you don’t have help you are going to figure it out. It’s really going to be OK — I swear! I have had so many moments where I was totally alone and didn’t know what to do (and I still have those moments!) And in those moments I would stop, take a few deep breaths, collect my thoughts, and go with my gut. Because a mom’s intuition is worth more than anything you can read in a book. And you will not only survive these moments, but you will feel stronger and more confident for going through them. Oh yeah, and you might even have a little fun with those sweet babes while you’re at it. 🙂
Finally, maybe you could have help but you just don’t want it. You want to do it on your own. And that’s OK too! The point is that the issue of getting help is so completely personal to each individual family that there is no right or wrong way to go about it. All you can do is be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling in the moment. You may have been scared shitless before the twins came and asked everyone in town to help, only to realize once they arrived that you didn’t need as much help as you thought. And that’s OK! As a parent of multiples, you should do what you need to do to have the best experience possible. Period. And no one can tell you what that means but you. Go with your gut and enjoy the crazy fun ride!
Julie Burt Nichols is an infertility advocate and a full-time working mother to twin boys, born on Halloween. She loves serving as a resource and support for new parents, soon-to-be parents, and we-want-desperately-to-be parents. Julie is Twiniversity’s Wizard Behind the Curtain, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Twiniversity.com, Account Manager, and Instructor for Chicago Twiniversity classes.