I remember when Camilla was new and we were still struggling bleary-eyed through the feedings and the diapers and the how do we get this baby to stop screaming and SLEEP, for the love of all that is holy? it occurred to me at one point that some people have more than one baby at once. I think I asked Bryan, "How do people with twins do it?"
We agreed that we had no idea. HOW did they do it?
Now that I've been one for ten months, I can tell you: parents of multiples are rock stars, worthy of admiration and perhaps even adulation. If you know one, you should take her vodka. Or cookies. Or both.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I can tell you how I do it: by working harder and sacrificing more than I ever have before. All parenthood is the challenge of love embodied, but parenting multiple babies at once is like the Olympics of that challenge. No question.
But also, this is what I have found to be true: my twins do not get the same level of hands-on attention from me that my first two babies did. I mean, baby Blaise also didn't get as much attention as baby Camilla did because I had a toddler to care for at the time, but the difference was not as radical. I would go so far as to say that I am a different kind of parent with Linus and Ambrose than I was with Camilla and Blaise.
And whoa. Getting to a place where I can write that without cringing has been quite a journey for me.
If I have ever had a parenting philosophy, it was something like this: love the children unceasingly, and keep them as healthy and happy as is reasonably possible.
It's worked well for me in the past, but - especially with high-needs Camilla - the lengths to which I went to keep her happy as much as possible were... well, IMpossible when you have two babies. I brushed my teeth with her on my hip and ate meals with her on my lap and wrote blog posts while she napped in the sling on my chest. She slept curled up next to me, nursing at her leisure. She wanted us to be together constantly, so I made that happen. And although Blaise was not as needy, I did pretty much the same things for him.
But I'm sure you can already see how this approach would not work with two babies. This is The Twin Problem: LOGISTICS.
You can't brush your teeth with a baby on each hip, nor eat with two of them on your lap, nor wear them both in a sling on your chest once they're out of newbornhood. And although now that they're big I do occasionally sleep with one of them on each side (and you can imagine how happy the one at my back gets when he awakens and wants to nurse) the super-vigilant co-sleeping I did in Camilla's and Blaise's early infanthood was impossible with Ambrose and Linus.
My pregnancy with the twins was not easy, but at many moments during the past 10 months I've found myself thinking of it wistfully. When they were in utero I could meet both their needs with almost no extra effort. It was blessedly simple.
Since birth, each of them has spent a (sadly, from their mother's perspective) large amount of time waiting - often with fussing, sometimes even with wailing - for my attention while I tend to the other one.
Maybe that doesn't seem like a big deal to you. Babies cry. Then they get older and quit crying and don't remember it.
But for me, it's not that simple. It never has been, and who knows why, but I have a constant and near-pathological need to keep everyone around me happy. Oh, I can (and do) put it aside to discipline my older kids. I can be tough when I need to be. But babies? I want babies to be happy.
One time I was on the phone with Miriel while I changed diapers, and she could hear one of the babies wailing as I wiped and rediapered the other as speedily as I could. I huffed through tears of frustration- why do I not have four arms? I need four arms - and she sweetly but firmly pointed out that maybe, just a little bit, I was putting too much pressure on myself.
"It's so hard having two babies at once," I told her. "It's this constant reminder that I can't keep everyone happy all the time, and it's heartbreaking. I want to keep everyone happy all the time."
And my sweet sister laughed and said, "But you can't! And I think you should take it as a compliment from God - he had to send you twins in order to teach you that lesson."
Having Linus and Ambrose has pushed me and pushed me, and if parenting were a sport I'd be a seasoned marathoner by now. I work harder and am more efficient than I have ever been.
But I've also learned, finally, that my parenting philosophy could use some balance. Bryan and I have struggled through this past year, and we're (blessedly) stronger and happier than we were last spring. It could so easily have gone another way, though, without focus and counseling and a large helping of grace.
So here is my new philosophy, and I think it's much better than my old one:
Love my family unceasingly, and keep my marriage, my children, and myself as healthy and happy as is reasonably possible.
When I look at it that way, being a different kind of parent than I was before the Twin Adventure no longer seems so bad. Ambrose and Linus have given me so much more than just themselves, and I'm slowly getting to a place where I can be glad for that.
*In case you read the first version of this post and are confused: a reader (Erin, in the comments below) pointed out to me that I'd inadvertently implied some things I absolutely did not mean to imply. So this is the new, edited version of this post.