"Well, will ya look at that!" my doctor said. He pointed to the ultrasound monitor. His other hand carefully guided the wand.
My husband and I were there to confirm my pregnancy. "Three fetal sacs!" the doctor exclaimed, pointing to the egg-yoke-looking blobs on the screen. Two of them were throbbing with life, and one looked ... quiet. "Ah, but that one doesn't have a heartbeat. You're having twins, my dear!"
I was smiling, but my grin was more of a grimace that housed a thousand emotions. I was elated but infinitesimally freaked out. Twins?! Of course, I knew the odds were better than average because we'd conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Yet I had still imagined doing mommy-and-me yoga with one newborn. Now I would have two babies -- no time for downward dog.
"It's okay to feel scared, to take a while to adjust to being the mom of two newborns," says Shelly Flais, M.D., author of Raising Twins: Advice from a Pediatrician Mom of Twins. Once I got used to my status as an expecting mom of twins, I took comfort that I had company: In the last 30 years, the twin birth rate has spiked. Twins account for 33.3 of every 1,000 births. Like me, women are having babies at later ages, which along with assisted reproduction techniques can up the chances that you'll need a double stroller.
"When I first meet with women who are carrying twins, I try to provide a realistic picture," says Linda M. Szymanski, M.D., Ph.D., a high-risk ob/gyn and codirector of the Multiple Gestation Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. "It's going to be tough." Moms of multiples have an above-average risk of premature birth, as well as a greater chance of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. Early births can mean stays in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for one or both babies. "It's difficult to predict who will have problems," Dr. Szymanski says.
That's why you have to be like a Buddhist Girl Scout: prepared for anything, yet not attached to anything. It's a tricky bit of emotional gymnastics. In fact, the entire childhood of my twin daughters, Vivian and Sasha, has been an exercise in letting go, cutting unimportant corners, and focusing on what matters. Do your best to give them what they need, ask for help when you can't, and take heart that someday you'll have the best behaved preschoolers because they'll already have learned how to take turns. With a lot of effort (and deep breaths and strong coffee), we survived. You will too.
PLAN FOR A SHORT PREGNANCY
Since more than half of twin moms deliver preterm, have your nursery set up and car seats and stroller purchased by 30 weeks. "The average twin delivery is at about 35 to 36 weeks," says Dr. Szymanski. "There's no predicting who will go early, but carrying identical twins comes with a slightly higher risk since the babies share one placenta." Even if you don't go into labor early, you may be told to take it easy (no marathon shopping!).
You'll need two of most things but not everything. Start off with just one bathtub, glider, nursing pillow, swing, bouncy chair, stationary activity center, changing table, diaper pail, breast pump, and double stroller. I also found a single stroller useful, so I could wear one baby and push the other. You'll need two car seats, high chairs, baby carriers, and yes, cribs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that multiples sleep separately to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
RELAX ABOUT YOUR BIRTH PLAN
In my Lamaze class, we saw a video of a woman who had her twins at home. Without drugs. But most moms of multiples deliver in the operating room, just in case, says Dr. Szymanski. At her clinic, every effort is made to deliver multiples vaginally, and research shows it can be safe, but 75 percent of twin moms have C-sections. Much depends on your doctor's assessment and your babies' positions: One of mine was laying across the exit. No-go.
SYNC THEIR SLEEP
I tried to "never wake a sleeping baby," but guess what? Like so many mantras, it doesn't apply to twins. "When one baby wakes up, wake the other," says Dr. Flais, who did this with her twin sons. Newborns should be awake for only about 90 minutes at a stretch. During that time, feed and change them, let them "play" (tummy time), and then put them down for their next nap. "I felt guilty waking my son up to eat, but the coordinated feeds gave my husband and me more time to enjoy our babies," says Dr. Flais.
EASE UP ABOUT NURSING
If you can nurse each baby separately, great, but many twin moms find it a challenge. "Any amount of breast milk is good, even if it's from a bottle," says Dr. Flais. Spend time with a hospital lactation consultant and meet with another one when you get home to practice holds. Alison Thompson of Wayland, Massachusetts, relied on her twin breastfeeding pillow and the football hold. "Nursing them together was a huge time-saver," says the mom of twins Ryan and Trevor. Feeding formula? Make all the bottles in the morning so you can just warm them when your babes are hungry.
HATCH A SYSTEM
You'll want your new family to run like a well-oiled machine. Diapers should be in bins in every room you spend time in. Do anything you can in advance. For instance, after you finish a feeding cycle, prepare for the next one, and "always have a diaper bag packed with the works -- clothes, diapers, toys, baby food," says Andy Berg, of New York City, dad of twins Spencer and Olivia. Finally, be creative. "We bought a different mobile for each crib for our triplets," says Michel Cavicchio, a mom in Marblehead, Massachusetts. "Whenever I needed to do something, I would lay the babies down in their cribs and turn on the mobiles. After 10 minutes, I'd rotate the babies so they'd have a different mobile -- with new sights and sounds."
BE NICE TO THE DUDE TRYING TO HELP
"Life with your partner is going to get bumpy," warns Avi Weider, of New York City, dad of triplets Zack, Maxine, and Kuba. "No one is getting enough sleep, and you're both working your butt off, but just go with it." One bonus for parents of multiples is that there's no time to fight about doing things your way. "Nursing at 3 A.M. would have been nearly impossible without my husband," says Gina Osher, of Los Angeles, mom of twins Beckett and Johanna. "He would hold one baby while I got the other latched on."
LET GO OF GUILT
"Everything seems like a big deal at the time, but usually it's not," says Christina Boyle Cush, of Darien, Connecticut, mom of twins Thomas and Remy. "I used to worry that my twins would never get as much attention as my older daughter did. Eventually, I got rid of that guilt." Cut yourself some slack, and everything will work out. My girls are 9 now, and life is easier and more fun with each passing year.