Photo above by Danica Donnelly: Holly Palkowitsch of Eagan gave birth to her daughter, Wilhelmina, with her partner, Chris, by her...
Seeing double? You’re not alone. Today, 1 in 30 newborns is a twin. So, it’s common—sort of. I saw a woman walk out of the ultrasound room after learning that there was an actual gathering of babies in her womb. She looked—at once—both enchanted and also stricken, so clearly thinking, “Wow. Wow, wow, wow. This is going to be hard.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing an expectant mother of multiples—right off the bat—is finding balance between the need to “normalize” her pregnancy and the need to acknowledge that there are increased risks associated with carrying more than one baby.
Jess Helle-Morrissey, a St. Paul based childbirth educator, psychotherapist, and doula, has become the unofficial go-to girl in the metro area for all things twins—specializing in both supporting multiple births and providing twin-specific childbirth education. The reason? She has been there. Moms of multiples began gravitating toward Jess because—as a mother of twins herself—she could empathize. Says Helle-Morrissey, “Discovering two babies changed some things about how I was planning to give birth.” Now, she helps others reshape their thinking and embrace the new plan.
The complications of pregnancy and childbirth aren’t necessarily different for mothers of multiples than they are for those carrying singletons; it’s really a matter of increased risk of the complications associated with any pregnancy. Weight gain, physical discomfort, miscarriage, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, risk of preterm labor, breech positioning, Cesarean section, and eventual NICU admission are all well-known scenarios that are much more common with multiples.
With this elevated risk comes the burden of a worry far exceeding the general anxiety experienced by all new parents. Fear of medical emergency mixed with doubt about one’s ability to handle two babies can really take a toll on the emotional health of the mother. Explains Rebecca Leuthner, a Long Lake mother of triplets, “I was really excited until the nurse said there was a third. I was really afraid of losing the pregnancy, since I’d already had a prior miscarriage. I didn’t even worry about having and caring for three babies. I thought, ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’”
The best thing any parent-to-be can do in the face of fear is actively combat it with real knowledge and top-notch support, such as taking an evidence-based, normalizing childbirth class designed especially for mothers of multiples. Find that OB who is willing to talk vaginal birth but who also isn’t afraid to intervene necessary. Find someone you trust. Hire Doula Jess or another birth doula not only experienced with, but passionate about the joyful delivery of multiples.
In preparation for life after birth, find a breastfeeding for multiples class that will help you feel confident in your body’s ability to nurse, should you choose to do so. You don’t want your first thoughts of tandem nursing to occur at 2:00 a.m., with what feels like arm loads of screaming babies in your lap. Prepare, practice, and empower yourself long before that first night home.
Most important—in preparing for birth and beyond—advocate for yourself as fervently as you would if this were a singleton pregnancy. For example, many mothers of multiples are put on bed rest to avoid preterm delivery, even when there is no evidence of false labor. On the flip side there is a common practice of inducing twins at 38 weeks, perhaps before they are ready. Look into these practices and question them. Trust your instincts. Find a practice that is willing to give your ideal birth plan a try. According to Helle-Morrissey, “there are plenty of groups out there where all the providers will deliver a breech baby ‘B’ vaginally. Don’t leave your birth up to the chance of who is on call! If baby ‘A’ is head-down, give a vaginal birth a shot!”
Even if the stars align and both babies are positioned with the head down, a twin mama-to-be might be surprised to learn that she will still be moved to the OR for delivery, in anticipation of a possible one vaginal, one Cesarean situation. This can be distracting. However, in creating that foundation of knowledge, advocacy, and support throughout your pregnancy, you will plan for this and will find a way to keep your focus.
After all is said and done, the babies will come out—one way or another—and they will be yours. The real fun begins.
Says Carolyn Sparks, a Minneapolis-based family practice physician and identical twin herself, “If you think carrying twins is tough…it’s important to know that it’s really hard to be the mother of infant multiples.” She advises, “Anything that can be outsourced should be. Meals, housecleaning, yard-work, a diaper service. Outsource it all if you can.”
From my own experience working with multiples as a postpartum doula, I have to say that the first year with more than one baby can be a bit like spinning plates. One baby finally falls asleep and her brother wakes back up. One is hungry and guess what? There is still another to feed. Every mother benefits from postpartum care, but multiples families simply need physical, practical help in a way that the singletons do not.
Beyond good support, organization is the most important tool for parents of multiples. Write down everything—feedings, diaper changes, naps. You’ll be too exhausted to remember otherwise. Schedule your support and never turn down help. Meredith Kasbohm, Twin Cities OB/Gyn and mother of twins suggests that, “If people offer to make a meal, shuttle older kids, or do laundry…set a date! You can always change it later.”
Fortunately, the neighbors, family members, and even strangers step up to help a family caring for newborn multiples with an enthusiasm that far surpasses what any sane person would offer a family welcoming one baby. Take every last generous, over-the-top offer of assistance. It’s also a good idea to collect a list of skilled professionals who you can call for those needs that fall beyond a warm crock of soup. Lactation counselors, family therapists, and doulas can quickly problem solve and get you out of the proverbial weeds, should you find yourself there.
Finally, if you are expecting twins or are honestly afraid to conceive because you fear that this might happen to you, take heart. With every challenge comes an even bigger blessing. Life with twins is uniquely surprising and sweet. Double trouble? Sure. And also, double joy. Explains Kasbohm, “In the inevitable chaos there are those moments that melt your heart, like the morning I found them snuggled up on the couch holding hands after sleeping in separate cribs all night.” She goes on to say that her twins can work together to accomplish things in a way that her older singletons could never do.
Still doubtful? Take it from a twin. Dr. Sparks explains, “Having a twin is one of the best gifts of my life. She is my best friend, my touchstone, someone I know I can depend on when I need someone the most. She made me a global thinker, because it was never just me. Everything I learned about unconditional love I learned from my twin.”
Doula Jess, birth doula specializing in support of a multiples birth
“You Can Do It!” Breastfeeding for Multiples
Minnesota Valley Mothers of Multiples
Childbirth Preparation: Twins, Triplets, Or More
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