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This past Sunday my twins turned one. I can hardly believe it. The year absolutely flew by.

I had been planning to write a little post on surviving your first year with twins, but as I started thinking about what I would say, I started to realize something. This year wasn’t just about survival. Sure, in the beginning, it was a seemingly never-ending cycle of feed, burp, nap, diaper change, repeat. And we did it all in a sleep-deprived haze. There were also the sleep issues and many, many ear infections, and bouts of bronchitis, croup, etc. Maybe THOSE parts were about survival.

But this year was so much more. This year absolutely changed my life. As a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a person. Here’s how:

  • I no longer procrastinate. In my pre-twin life, I was a master procrasinator. I find that since becoming a Mother of Multiples, I no longer have that luxury. If I have 5 minutes to do laundry, I better do it. If I don’t, it may sit there until next week. Act now or forever miss your opportunity. Things are actually getting accomplished around my house and often in advance of when they need to be done! I’m also more productive in the office because I never know when I’ll need to take an emergancy sick or vacation day to tend to a child.
  • I am learning to be flexible. (I’m still working on this, but getting much better!) In life, things happen. Even with the best of intentions, schedules and routines, there is bound to be a kink in the plans at some point. In the not-so-distant past the unexpected speedbumps in my routine would have thrown me so far off course I couldn’t recover. With twins, the bumps come frequently. I have no choice but to adjust and keep moving forward. We are all happier and more relaxed as a result of Mommy’s new abilities.
  • Immediate family now comes first. Growing up, I saw my immediate family (mother, father, brother and me) as one unit. Our unit was part of a bigger, extended family but I knew that the four of us were our own, standalone group. When I got married and even when I had my singleton, I still saw myself as part of that original core unit. It was only with the arrival of the twins that I’ve realized: we’ve now become our own unit. And I finally feel comfortable scheduling, planning, and standing up for what I think is best for this immediate family.
  • I appreciate the female body (even) more. Pregnancy and childbirth is an amazing experience. But carrying and delivering multiple babies goes beyond words. Then, watching my body provide nourishment for the two babies at the same time…I’m speechless.The female body is an amazing, amazing thing!
  • I am much more patient. I have developed a much higher tolerance for noise, hair pulling, eye poking and monotonous play. I am content to sit on the floor for 45 minutes and let the kids climb on me; I no longer worry about what’s NOT getting done when I sit there and I no longer worry about moving on to the next activity. This one is fun? Let’s stay with it. As a result, I’m more patient with my husband, my dog and my co-workers. I am not any more patient while driving, but I’m working on that.
  • I want to be there for other people. Having been through the high-risk pregnancy and the NICU experience (twice), and ending up with all of these beautiful, healthy children has made me so very thankful for all that I have. As a result, I have been finding joy in helping others – even others I don’t know. My charitable donations are up, I’m donating more time (yes, time!), I’m just generally more involved in the world around me. And I enjoy it.
  • I love my husband (even) more. I’ve made no secret about how involved my husband is. I didn’t think before the twins arrived it was possible to love him more. But watching him step right up and help with them and our daughter and with me…I guess it was entirely possible. Ditto that feeling for my mom and dad.
  • I consider my situation to be my own and don’t compare it to those around me. I no longer compare my life to the lives of those around me. I feel more free as a result. Is my life crazy because I have twins? Yup. Is your life crazy because you have one baby? Or six? Yes. And Yes. Our situations are not the same; we are all different. There is no point in comparing whose life is harder or who has it better. I just make the best of what I have and I don’t worry about what others are doing.
  • I find the humor in things. Two little boys alternately projectile vomiting at a 3-year old’s birthday party? That would have made me cry two years ago. Now, what choice do I have but to laugh?

So, Happy Birthday Aaron and Brady. You have made me a better person. I can’t imagine my life without you little monkeys!

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I’ve been thinking about breastfeeding this week. First, LauraC reposted her thoughts about her decision to stop breastfeeding. And then, a mom posted a question in the comments about how to get regular naps when her babies fall asleep when nursing and take an hour to eat. This got me thinking some more about the whole breastfeeding experience—what helped, what didn’t, what worked and what was awful. I’ve written about this before, here and here,  as have others here and here, but I think it’s such an important topic for new moms it’s worth revisiting. I exclusively breastfed my twins for the first year, and I can look back and see the choices we made which made it work, and potential roadblocks that would have derailed breastfeeding for good. I’m glad we did it, but it certainly was challenging at times.

One comment I hear from new moms of twins a lot (and probably from new moms of singletons too, if all the babies in my life didn’t come in pairs) is that their babies take forever to eat. As in an hour. Or more. And I’m not talking about babies who are a week or two old. I’m talking about babies who are two, three or four months old and still latching on and chowing down for a significant amount of time. With a newborn, you already feel like you spend all of your time nursing—how in the world are you ever going to do anything else? And I’m not talking big projects, like dissertations (shudder–mine is still not complete) or other ambitious projects—I’m talking shower and empty the dishwasher and maybe eat lunch.  By 2 months or so, my kids were eating for maybe 15 minutes a meal. By 4-5 months, it was down to 5 minutes.

So, when people ask me how to get their babies to eat faster, I tend to just pass on the advice I got from the fantastic lactation consultant who ran the breastfeeding group I attended. Obviously, this isn’t a problem for everyone. If you’re content with your kids eating for 45 minutes to an hour, then read no more. It’s not an issue! However, if it’s driving you crazy or making you contemplate stopping breastfeeding, then read on. And, readers, if you have good suggestions that worked for you, please put them in the comments section!

1. The breast is not a place to hang out and get comfy. As soon as you stop hearing swallowing or the baby starts falling asleep, you can pull them off. Babies will tell you (loudly) if they are still hungry.

2. Be comfortable having baby go back for round two. If you cut baby off after 15 minutes and now she won’t go to sleep, it may be that she’s still hungry. Feed again. No problem.

3. You may find your babies need to eat every 2 hours for a long time. Mine certainly did, at least during the day. However, this is much less of an issue if the feedings are pretty quick.

4. Offer a pacifier after feeding if they are still fussy, but not eating much. It may be that they are looking for the comfort of sucking, not the food. However, the benefit of the paci is that Daddy or Grandma can do that, it doesn’t have to be you. Thus, time for you to eat lunch!

These are just my thoughts on this and what worked for me. Obviously, all babies are different and I am certainly not an expert in breastfeeding. However, I found this lactation consultant so instrumental in giving me the tools and information to be able to keep breastfeeding my kids. I’d recommend a lactation consultant to anyone. Other ideas? Please chime in.

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I originally wrote this post for HDYDI last April as my boys approached their second birthday. As new readers have come to our blog in that time, I thought I would repost my experience trying to exclusively breastfeed.

I had plans to exclusively breastfeed my boys until they were at least a year old. I read books, attended classes, lined up lactation consultants (LCs), lined up a post-partum doula, and watched videos. I was ready for anything, or so I thought. I would find I was not the least bit prepared for breastfeeding two preemies.

My boys were born at 36w, 3d. At birth, Nate had breathing issues and Alex had “feeding issues.” Every preemie parent knows it is so easy to say “feeding issues” and so hard to deal with those feeding issues. We couldn’t leave the NICU until he gained weight.

In the meantime, we spent 24 hours a day at the hospital. I pumped every 3 hours and Jon labeled precious containers of breastmilk for the boys’ use in the NICU. After two days, they were cleared to try breastfeeding. Every three hours, we’d get seven people together to breastfeed – one nurse to wake up Alex, one nurse to wake up Nate, an LC, me, Jon, Alex, and Nate. For 20 minutes, the nurses would vigorously rub the babies’ heads, stroke their palms, and gently shake them until they woke up. I was then under the gun to try to get a good latch with each baby and get them sucking before they fell asleep again. No pressure or anything!

For the first couple of days, there was no success. They would then get a formula/breastmilk feeding by gravage and I would go back to my room to pump. We eventually got to the point where Nate was feeding well. However Alex’s sucking reflex was so weak we only had one successful feeding the entire week in the NICU.

At home, things rapidly went downhill. Jon and I were exhausted trying to focus on breastfeeding. The routine was – 20 minutes wake baby 1, 30 minutes feed, 20 minutes wake baby 2, 30 minutes feed, 30 minutes Laura pump, 60 minute break and start again. 24 hours a day.

Alex never stayed awake long enough for a feeding and the time he was awake, his sucking reflex was extremely weak. He lost so much weight his skin was sagging off him. We made a joint decision with our pediatrician to supplement with formula. An LC showed us how to cup-feed and SNS-feed. We had an LC at our home trying to help us as well. I broke down in giggling hysterics the first time Alex drank from a cup. Jon cried one night when Alex could barely stay awake through one ounce of formula. We were so worried Alex would die or have to  be re-hospitalized.

During this entire time, Nate was feeding well. I spent hours on the phone and internet with experts on what to do about Alex. We’d try him at the breast with an SNS then try to cup-feed him and eventually had to get out a bottle at each feeding.

I completely exhausted myself to the point of depression trying to get breastfeeding to work. We’d set the alarm to get one hour of sleep and when it would go off, I would cry hysterically. I got to the point that I didn’t want the boys to wake up because I was so tired. I cried and cried and cried. I cried in bed, I cried in the shower, and I cried sitting in my living room. I have a history of depression and I was heading a bad path very quickly.

Here’s where Jon saved me. I learned parenting is a joint decision. Jon said we had to make the best decision for our FAMILY. We were not comfortable with breastfeeding just one of the boys while the other was formula fed.  We decided we would try a new strategy for 24 hours. I would pump and we would bottle-feed the boys. I would get some rest then we would re-assess.

Those 24 hours, I didn’t cry once. I started to enjoy being a mom. I started to enjoy cuddling my babies and staring at their little toes and fingers. I felt the fog lifting once I switched to pumping. I felt like myself again. The despair and depression were gone. I decided to become an exclusive pumper.

We had lined up help for 2 months and when our help left, I found it very difficult to pump and care for the boys at the same time. After much discussion, Jon and I decided I would stop pumping. Our freezer stash lasted until the boys were almost 3 months old.

Looking back, I don’t feel like I failed at breastfeeding. At each step along the way, we made the decision we felt was best for our entire family. And that’s what I didn’t understand about parenting while I was pregnant – these decisions need to include the entire family, not just the babies. I would have loved to have made it to a year, but I feel like we did everything we could to make it successful. I have peace with my almost 3 months of breastfeeding twins as a first-time mother. While breastfeeding didn’t work out the way I planned, I feel ok about it because nothing in parenting has turned out the way I planned yet it continues to far exceed my expectations.

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Eva has two year old boy/girl twins, Jordan and Sarah. She works full time as a professor of human development.

What do you think when you hear that someone is nursing TWO YEAR OLDS? Surprise? Discomfort? Disgust? If they’re old enough to ask for it, they’re too old? I might have thought some of these. I cannot explain it, but it’s different when it’s your own children. It’s just Sarah and Jordan nursing, like they have every day since I could walk to the NICU. In the first year of their life, breastfeeding felt all consuming – six times per child during the day, a few more per child at night. I had to plan every meeting, every social engagement, and every attempt to leave the house around nursing or pumping. Now it is in the background, like bathing or brushing teeth. There are moments it is surreal. Recently I was tandem nursing and asking the kiddos about Spanish body parts — “point to your nariz; put your hands on your cabeza…” My son popped off and asked “Bubbie in Spanish.” When your child is asking how to say grandmother in Spanish, it’s a bit odd that they still nurse. On the other hand, it’s our normal.

I recently spoke with another daycare parent. When she found out that my kiddos still nurse, she seemed quite surprised and asked many questions. She nursed her child until 18 months so she’s clearly not against extended nursing. Still, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, and caught myself almost blaming my kiddos during the conversation (“they just don’t want to give it up”). Some family members quickly change the subject if I mention nursing and have even expressed concern. At times I feel pride discussing it with others, but there are moments when I feel a bit like the crunchy deviant Mama, like I should be wearing a prairie skirt and braids in my hair.

During pregnancy and the newborn phase when people asked if I planned to nurse I told them I would try and hoped it would work. Once we truly established nursing (after 3 very challenging months) I said I hoped to last a year. After a year I said I’d like to get them through another daycare winter. I have no specific goal at this point.

It has evolved in the past year. At 13 months they still nursed wake up, 10:00 AM, before nap, after nap (their daycare is in the same building as my office), before dinner, before bed, and throughout the night. I gradually weaned them off the nighttime (thank goodness), working hour and pre-dinner ones, finally dropping the lunchtime one at around 20 months. Unless they are sick, they do not nurse between bedtime and 7:00 AM. I never offer, but almost every morning and bedtime they request and I do not deny at those times.

I prefer nursing one at a time. I still occasionally tandem nurse when they are both frantic for it, but over 50 pounds of toddler nursing feels overwhelming. I’m not sure why given that our alternative is just as crazy,  often with one nursing one while reading to the other, book across the nurser’s body, nurser’s feet in reader’s lap. Sometimes when the first nurser seems to be dawdling I’ll give a warning, “three more seconds” and then count off. Other times the waiting kiddo will say “Sarah all done, one, two, three.”

When the kiddos were sick with the stomach bug, I was really happy that they still nurse. The doctor told my husband it was wonderful I still nurse to help them stay nourished and hydrated. I was glad to be able to offer them something comforting, nutritious, with antibodies, and in small quantities. I did at times, though, feel as though my body was letting my daughter down. I certainly do not produce as much milk as I used to (the days of eating with impunity are long gone), and Sarah was so hungry that she would sometimes stop nursing and cry because she could not get enough. I had flashbacks to newborn Sarah nursing for 40 minutes and still not able to get enough, and once again felt a sense of failure at being able to nurture my child.

There are days when I think nursing is less important to the kiddos than it used to be. Sometimes they are distracted and seem more interested in the book that Daddy is reading to their brother/sister than nursing. Other days, though, they cry and beg “Mama nurse…. Mama do one baby… Mama do two babies” as I pick up their sibling first thing in the morning. I still believe that my son as a singleton would have weaned by now, as he’s easily distracted, but if I am around, my daughter insists on nursing at bedtime and in the morning. Sometimes my husband gets them ready for daycare and if they don’t see me before breakfast, they might not ask. I believe twice I have left the house before bedtime and they went to sleep without nursing.

On a recent morning after the kiddos nursed and I was dressing them I asked, “Do you think soon you will want to go to bed and not nurse, just cuddle and read books?” They both looked at me like I’m nuts and said “no!” Then I asked “Do you think some mornings you want to get up and get dressed and have breakfast, and not nurse?” Sarah said “get up AND NURSE.” Tonight I asked Jordan “Do you want to read a book, or nurse?” and he replied “read a book after nursing.” The whole self-led weaning thing has yet to take at our house. I’m not sure how we’ll do it. Perhaps when I leave town? Or a few nights/mornings when I skip bedtime/wake up?  I’ve also read about letting them pick out a present, and saying they can have it when they are all done with nursing. We’ll see what we end up doing. I don’t want to force it in a way that they are dissatisfied with the way things ended.

At any earlier point discussing this topic, I think I would have said that I was not completely ready to be done, or at least, that I’d be sad when it ended. There were nights when Jordan skipped nursing, or a morning on vacation when they both did, and I felt almost teary wondering if the last time had already happened. Today I think I can say that I will be ready to be over when they are ready. I look forward to (mostly) having my body back (no idea what those post-nursing breasts will look like, though). Not thinking about what bra I have on (my son and I actually had a discussion about my wearing the “wrong bra” and “Mama take your bra off” just this week) or how cold my stomach will be when I lift my shirt. Occasionally having my husband say “why don’t you sleep in this morning?” because the kiddos won’t yell “Mama nurse!” until I drag my sleepy body out of bed. Being able to plan a business trip without worrying about clogged ducts and traumatized children. There are certainly things that I will miss, some of which are already long gone. More than two years of multiple times per day, looking down into my children’s eyes and seeing them content and relaxed. More than two years of feeling their warm bodies snuggled into mine. My daughter’s definitive nod when I ask her questions while she’s nursing. My son popping off to laugh or answer a question. I worry about getting enough snuggle time when they no longer nurse, as these days, hugs and kisses don’t always come when requested. Even when we’re done, I hope I find time every day to take each of my babes, snuggle them close, kiss their delicious heads, and tell them how much I love them. The memories of crying, frustration, pumping, bites, and all-night-long nursing are already fading, and I’m mostly left with melty thoughts of the sweet, gentle, cuddly moments. Babyhood is such a short instant in our lives, and I treasure all of these moments with each of them. I’ll miss it and not miss it and never forget it.

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I have a confession to make: I have no idea how to be alone with all four of my children (awake) at the same time.

Sure, my 3-year old is a dream; she is really almost entirely self-sufficient. Baby Brett is also pretty easy. But as he is a 100% breast-fed baby, when it’s time for him to eat, I’m pretty tied down.

This leaves the monkeys twins, Aaron and Brady. These two are a challenge. It’s not that they are bad kids; they are just toddlers. Adventurous, curious toddlers. Plotting and scheming toddlers with their own “language“. So they need constant monitoring when they are awake. And almost constant physical intervention. The word “no” gets no reaction from them whatsoever. Well, except for a smile and a laugh. (And I think they are learning how to wink at us before climbing on the back of the couch as well.)

As I type this, I feel that I must disclose that I am really, truly alone with the children for very tiny windows of time during the day. I am blessed with a work-at-home husband who does 99% of the heavy lifting. But he does get caught up on work phone calls or occasionally would like to use the bathroom or shower.

Since I was born with only average, human-length arms, during those times when I am alone, if I need to sit and breastfeed, I only have two choices for the twins. First, I can take a chance and let Aaron and Brady (who sense weakness and go for it) have full run of their normal playroom. This room is <em>mostly </em>childproof but still has a few holes that they are drawn to when they know no one can jump up and physically stop them.

OR, I could confine them in their ever-present pack & play with a toy or a DVD for the duration of the nursing session. This can be anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the baby’s mood at the time. That seems a little unfair to them.

If there is anyone out there who has any advice on how to make these nursing sessions a little less stressful, please help!

This post is cross-posted on my personal blog, www.thewjourney.com.

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