As best I can tell, it happens maybe 200 times a day in this country. A nice couple goes into a maternity clinic, a nice medical technician turns on the ultrasound machine, and the scan reveals that the woman is pregnant with twins. And panic ensues.
It may not happen in the clinic – probably it won’t. It may not happen on the drive home. It may not happen that day, or the next. But if you find out that your wife is about to have twins, there’s a good chance that you’re going to panic about it. (Panic is almost guaranteed if you’re talking about triplets or higher-order multiples.)
The first thing to understand is that there’s nothing wrong with panic. Panic is a natural, healthy response to a frightening situation. Panic is completely called for under the circumstances. So go ahead and cut loose, at least for a little while.
All done? Good.
The problem with panic is that panic never helped anybody do anything, and you’ve got quite a lot to do between now and the time that your wife gives birth. Some of the things you have to do – like babyproofing and arranging for child care – you’d have to do anyway with just one baby, but there are plenty of complications with two or more that you need to be aware of.
1. Learn how to handle basic baby care responsibilities. If you don’t know how to care for babies already – I know I didn’t have the first clue when my twins were born in 2009 – you’re going to have to learn. This is a cold hard fact. Everyone knows that as an American father in the twenty-first century, you’re expected to shoulder at least a share of the parenting responsibilities. But if all you have is one baby to deal with, it’s certainly possible – I am not recommending this, you understand-to push off a bunch of the messier parts of the childcare experience onto your wife. But if you have two babies in the house, there’s no way that you’re going to avoid dealing with baby care. You’re going to do diaper changes, you’re going to clean up vomit, you’re going to help feed babies, you’re going to get spit up on. Explosively. Accept this.
So how do you get experience in dealing with baby care? Well, there’s nothing like on-the-job training, but if you want to get a jump start, you could do worse than reading a basic book like The Happiest Baby on the Block. Happiest Baby is not, strictly speaking, a child-care manual, but it does tell you what to do when one or more of the babies starts crying uncontrollably. (This will happen, often, and it’s very helpful to have at least some idea of what to do when it does-see the discussion about panicking, above.)
2. Develop your strategy. Okay, just how do you and your wife plan on caring for two babies at once? With one baby, you can-again, this is not recommended-kind of wing it. That is to say, you respond to that baby’s needs as they come up. You can try that with two babies, but it can be a prescription for disaster.
The best example of how this works is nap time. If you have one baby who’s ready to fall asleep, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to get the other one to fall asleep, too. This has several advantages, the most important of which is that with both babies asleep, you will get some sleep, too. And you will need it.
But setting aside the need for sleep, if you don’t coordinate it so that the babies are on something like the same kind of schedule, you’re basically committing yourself to 24/7 baby care without a break. And you’re going to want a break, if only to take pictures or check your e-mail or just enjoy your kids for a few minutes. If you feed the babies at the same time, burp them at the same time, and put them to sleep at the same time, you’re sparing yourself a lot of aggravation.
Of course, you’re also going to have to make decisions about how to handle the big, controversial childcare issues-breastfeeding versus bottles, disposable diapers versus other more environmentally friendly options, co-sleeping versus bassinets. Start thinking and researching your approach to these issues now, rather than deciding things later when you’re exhausted and distracted.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because you’re going to need it. As you let family and friends know that you’re having twins, it’s not too early to ask them to lend a hand once the babies arrive. The more help you can get, the better off you’re going to be. If your parents want to come over for a week to help out, let them by all means – as long as they’re there to help and not just be entertained by their grandchildren. If you can find friends who will bring over takeout, that can be a huge help, too. (This isn’t limited to just your close circles, either. You’re likely going to need some kind of help at your office, for example, in terms of additional leave and support.)
You’re at least going to want to think about getting some kind of professional help. We hired a cleaning service even before the babies came, just because my wife was having trouble dealing with the housework during her pregnancy. You’re certainly going to want to identify people who can babysit so that you can get the occasional night out-two babysitters are better than one, at least when the babies are very young. We didn’t consider a nanny, but I regret not trying to get a doula – someone who comes over part time and assists the mother in taking care of herself.
Also, take the time to try to set up some kind of contingency plan in case of illness. When my twins were six months old, my wife and I both came down with a serious case of the stomach flu at the same time. I couldn’t so much as feed the babies without getting violently ill. We had to call in my wife’s mother, who lives an hour and a half away, to help. That was a lifesaver, but it would have been better if we’d had someone closer to home that would have been available to help. Try to figure out what you’re going to do if there’s an emergency ahead of time.
4. Get a Costco card. This of course assumes that you live near a Costco, or some similar warehouse store. With two babies, you’re going to be buying a lot of your supplies in bulk, partly because it’s cheaper and partly because you’re going to need more. Costco and its competitors are going to be cheaper on a lot of things in a lot of ways. (There are certain things that Costco doesn’t carry, though, like butt paste.) And at least at our local Costco, you have shopping carts that hold two babies at once, which is an enormous convenience.
But shop around-we were able to get a lot of stuff cheaper at some of the specialty baby stores, and elsewhere online. (The “Amazon Mom” service, which got you several free months of free shipping through Amazon Prime, was very useful, not least because you didn’t have to leave the house to buy stuff. However, it doesn’t seem to be open to new members at the moment.)
Along with this, don’t be afraid to ask for sibling discounts. Babies R Us has a discount program, and your child care provider may cut you a break for multiples.
5. Get a minivan to handle all the stuff you will buy at Costco. That’s largely self-explanatory in and of itself, but the real advantage of the minivan is the remote power sliding doors. Make sure that you buy a minivan that’s big enough to accommodate your stroller. (Side-by-side strollers are easier to maneuver but can be hard to fit through doors; back-and-front models are a little easier to deal with but give the twin sitting in back ample opportunity to kick the back of a sibling’s seat.)
Once you get the big issues out of the way, you’re free to concentrate on the fun stuff, like naming your twins (please, nothing cutesy like rhyming names or names that start with the first initial) and buying clothes (pick out stuff that’s complimentary but not quite identical-even if your twins are identical you want to be able to differentiate between them).
The amount of work that it takes to raise two babies isn’t just double the amount of work it takes to raise one-sometimes it feels like the same amount of work squared. Having twins in the house is tough enough as it is. If you take the time to make some decisions now about what you want to do as a parent, it can make things a bit easier and result in less panic for everyone. (You have stopped panicking, now, haven’t you? Good.)