What no one tells you about having twins

illustration of mother sitting in bathroom, babies in bedroom

Illustration: Gillian Wilson

When I was pregnant, everyone had a gruesome twin tale they just had to tell me: poop explosions, mangled lady parts, the bottomless pit of sleep deprivation. Thanks to these cautionary tales, I had a pretty good handle on the logistics of twin parenthood early on. I could bounce a baby on my knee and rock the other with my foot. I could juggle two car seats with aplomb. Double-duty lactation? No worries. I was, however, woefully unprepared for the emotions—the giddy, effervescent, ugly, scary ones that lie at the extreme ends of human experience that come with having twins.

Being a mom of twins is the loveliest, loneliest, most exhilarating and most exhausting experience I’ve ever known. On any given day in that first year, I’d swoon in adoration, tear my hair out in frustration, cry because my reheated coffee had gone cold for a third time and melt into a puddle of goo at gummy smiles and squishy hugs. It’s as if I started each day strapping myself into the most insane roller coaster ever created, without a safety harness. Once my partner went back to work and my parents returned to Australia, I had to ride it solo.

My girls are now four, and the realities of life with two babies is quickly fading in my rear-view mirror. But in the spirit of all those parents who shared their wisdom with me, here are some hard-won nuggets that I wish I’d known from the start.

twin baby girls cuddle in hospital bed

My daughters cuddling at the hospital after one twin was re-admitted. Photo: Tenille Bonoguore

I think I’m alone now

In those first few days that became weeks and eventually months, I was never, ever alone. Babies, visitors, my husband, my parents: My life was full of people, yet with cruel irony, loneliness was always hovering in the wings.

During long, haggard nights of breastfeeding, my husband and I sat dead-eyed in a mire of shared solitude. Loneliness consumed my will to leave the house, to shower and to pick up the phone and call friends who had offered help. How could I explain something I couldn’t pinpoint myself? After 15 years of independent working womanhood, I felt like a foreigner in a strange land populated by squalling infants, well-intentioned visitors and my one true saviour: the cloth-diaper collector.

Reading my babies’ signals was like learning a new language (make that two languages)—a feat made harder by the fact that my attention was always split between them. Just getting us all clothed and out the door without one (or all) of us being covered in spit, milk, food or poop felt like I was facing an insurmountable mountain.

On good days, I’d get us to a play centre to spend an hour trying to stop them from eating the paint/book/toy/other kids. If I was lucky, I’d get to exchange a few sentences with another adult. On great days, we’d meet friends for a playdate in the park and the girls would fall asleep in happy exhaustion when I pushed the stroller home.

Twins babies smiling on bed

Being a mom of twins is the loveliest, loneliest, most exhilarating and most exhausting experience I’ve ever known. Photo: Tenille Bonoguore

Then there were the bad days, when it felt like the logistics of getting us all out the door outweighed any benefit we’d get from leaving. One time, I had us all strapped into the car and then realized I had no idea where to go. I felt exhausted and utterly defeated. I unclipped the car seats and headed back inside.

There were days when I hid at home, didn’t shower, ate too much chocolate and cried in the bathroom while the girls slept. There were people I could call, but I rarely did. What would I say? How do you put the emotional roller coaster that each day became into words? It was that much lonelier because I desperately tried to hide all of this from my daughters.

Yes, twins usher you into some hard, lonely territory. Yet even in the midst of the worst days, there were bursts of love and joy that were stunning in their radiance. Sure, I’d cry afterwards (because, emotions), but I knew that if we just got through that day, we could get through anything. So we did. And then we got through the day after that, and the next one.

And then, somewhere in the second year, the loneliness just up and left.

And yet, three’s a crowd

One of the (many) things that made the first year so hard is that modern motherhood is set up for singletons. Every program for new parents is geared to one adult and one baby: mommy-and-baby yoga, parent-and-tot swim, music class, stroller fit, movies for moms. You get the idea. Even a song circle gets precarious when you’re juggling two living Peebles.

Parents with twin gear

The ultimate guide to twin gear

The logistics were firmly against me as a parent of twins, so I found sanity in playing the long game. I never had to go through childbirth or mat leave again! Once we were done with diapers, we were done forever! Formula is presented as an entirely reasonable option to twin moms, and if you manage to breastfeed exclusively—let alone make it to 12 months—people act like you should have a ticker-tape parade in your honour.

No, we didn’t go to music and movement class, but we did have impromptu dance parties in the kitchen, the girls’ pudgy legs pushing their bouncy chairs faster and faster. When they started to climb, we didn’t go to kindergym; I was the kindergym.

When I flip through my journal from that first year, I rediscover so many moments—funny, silly, love-filled moments. The frisson of excitement when they first actually saw each other (three months, three days). The ecstasy of blueberries (seven months, 25 days). The pudgy squish of their first deliberate hug (nine months, 16 days). Cankles (from three months to two years).

There were times that I worried that being torn between the demands of two children robbed the girls of precious one-on-one time. But I’m starting to understand that all of us—the girls, my husband, my adult stepsons and myself—have brought something special to the whole. And, because we had twins, we got to appreciate each of the girls on their own terms.

Most people grasp their child’s individuality when they see it in relief, contrasted against a sibling or other children in daycare or school. But parents of twins are lucky: From day one, we saw our girls’ unique personalities in relief against each other. We didn’t have two babies; we made two different people, each wholly and entirely unique from day one.

And the real long-game bonus of twins? At the very moment that your toddlers get really demanding, presto, you’ve got a little buddy for them to play with. Twins for the win!

twin baby girls playing together

The two girls playing together at 8.5 months. Photo: Tenille Bonoguore

Let it go

A rather counterintuitive bonus of twins is that it quickly becomes apparent that you are not in control. Before they were even born, the babies were dictating everything, from what exercise I could do to whether I’d have an epidural. I had to let go of my assumptions and go with what was best. This was actually a brilliant introduction to parenting. Home-cooked organic food made from scratch? Pass the jar. Let babies sleep when they’re tired? Nope, get those suckers on a schedule. Want to do two different things on one day? Oh, you fool. Take those hopes and put ’em to the curb.

The best you can do is ride the wave and hope everyone comes out of it reasonably unscathed. Most other parents learn this much later on, either when their kids hit their toddler years or when they pop out a second child. And that’s when you can open your arms and welcome all those parents who pitied you in.

What no one tells you is that twins make you strong. Life threw you a curveball, and you caught it. Juggling their needs makes you exhausted, yes, but it also makes you resilient. You set realistic goals and learn to take it easy on yourself—and on them—if you fall short for a day or a week. Most people don’t really understand the pressure that your family experiences, and that liberates you to chart your own course.

Sure, twins also make you feel temporarily insane, but that’s a small price to pay for the impossible amount of love and joy you’ll have in your life.

Anyway, it could always be harder: You could have triplets.

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