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Multiples of Love

Multiple births are on the upswing - and the parents love it.

Posted: February 29, 2008 10:11 a.m.
Updated: May 1, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Patience and support are the key ingredients to not only surviving, but thriving, with multiple births. (Above) The Schroeder family includes two sets of twins, left to right, Klye, age 3, Tricia, Kelli, age 3, Brandon, age 5, Brian and Colby, age 5.

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If it seems that there are more twins and triplets around nowadays than there were when you were a kid, your instinct is correct. The number of multiple births is high, and rising.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there are currently over 4 million people in the United States who are either a twin, or part of a higher-multiple set. Every year about 126,500 babies in multiple sets are born to over 36,000 families, which equates to a twin birth rate of 32 per 1,000 births, and 2 per 1,000 for triplets, quads, and higher orders of multiples.

Furthermore, between 1990 and 2004, the birth rate for twins increased by almost 30 percent, while the rate for triplets and higher skyrocketed by over 200 percent. This increase is mainly due to the growing number of couples undergoing fertility treatments.

Many parents of multiples are right here in the SCV, and they know firsthand that the experience carries both unique challenges, as well as the same highs and lows of having a single child, albeit magnified several times over.

As if breast-feeding, shopping, managing playtime and bedtimes, and maintaining a relationship with your spouse isn't tough enough with only one baby, imagine doing with two, three, or more simultaneously.

This is why both parents and experts say that organization, patience and support are the key ingredients to not only surviving, but thriving, with multiples.

Preparing for Arrival
Tricia Schroeder of Acton is the mother of not one, but two sets of twins. After having trouble conceiving naturally, she and her husband decided to undergo assisted reproductive techniques twice, which resulted in twins both times. Her children are now ages four and six.


Having been though the experience two times, she advises couples who may be expecting multiples to plan in advance, but to be open and flexible once the babies are born.

"I was on bed rest for most of my first pregnancy, which gave me a lot of time to read and organize," she said. "I planned routines, ordered supplies online, and read a lot about newborns and being the mother of twins."

Dr. Eileen Pearlman, a clinical psychologist in private practice in west L.A., said that preparation is important to avoid experiencing an extreme of "twin shock," a term she uses to describe the trepidation that often comes with the news that more than one baby is incubating inside.

"You can feel elated and anxious at same time," Pearlman said. "That's why getting prepared well in advance is important, especially since multiple babies are often born earlier than normal."

One key aspect of preparation is identifying people who can help out once the babies are born. Pearlman suggested making a list of people from grandparents to nannies to friends whom you can call upon when you need to, because you will need to.

"Don't underestimate the amount of help you will need," she said. "Try to get as much help as you can. There are only 24 hours in a day."

Thea Carlo-Stern, a mother of 3-year-old triplets from Santa Clarita, said that she knew she would need an abundance of help, so she hired not one but two nannies.

"Support is very important, especially with three," she said. "Any time you go out you have to have an army of helpers."

Pearlman also suggested finding a support group such as the Santa Clarita Mothers of Twins Club or the online Triplet Connection, because the contacts and advice you will get can mean the difference between feeling alone and desperate, versus connected and in control.

Linda Scotto, president of the Mothers of Twins Club and the mother of 4-year-old twin boys, first joined when she was seven months pregnant and considered it a lifeline.

"The Twins Club was a huge resource," she remembers. "I wanted to talk to as many people as I could who had been through the same experience as me. I quizzed all the other moms about what it was like, what worked for them, the mechanics of breastfeeding, and other things."

The club, which has been in existence since 1973, currently has about 45 members and meets once a month at a different home. In addition to bringing in speakers who talk about topics related to raising multiples, they also have age-specific play groups and holiday parties.

Organization/Logistics
Once your babies are born, maintaining your sanity and a smoothly-running household is enhanced through structure and organizational techniques.

"Having multiples is a different type of experience that requires different skills with time management and problem- solving that you don't have with one baby," Schroeder said. "Everything is magnified compared to having a singleton."

To keep things from getting too chaotic in her home, Schroeder organizes everything from sleeping schedules to feeding times, and prepares things like lunches and outfits the night before.

For shopping, she found early on that it made sense to either buy online in order to avoid a trip to the store with four little ones, or to find shops like Costco that have kid-friendly push carts and the option to economize.

"For lunches I used to buy individual cups of applesauce, now I buy more in bulk," she said. "It saves money doing it that way. And Internet shopping saves an outing. It's hard to take four little kids anywhere. Any parents of multiples would find that to be true."

Scotto echoed Schroeder's advice about organization, because she says it improves not only your kids' lives, but your own. She remembers what worked for her when her twins were just babies.

"We used to keep extravagant charts about when they ate, how much, and which breast," she said. "Breastfeeding two at the same time is difficult, but keeping them on the same schedule is important otherwise you'll never have any rest.

Rest when they rest. That worked for me. It's important for babies to have a schedule, and important for parents, too."

For Scotto, keeping supplies handy in multiple locations also saves her a lot of time and frustration, and she recommends it for other parents.

"We have a two-story house, so we have supplies both upstairs and downstairs," she said. "I think all mothers of twins do this. Our diaper bag was also always twice as big as everyone else's."

However, Pearlman warns parents to not go overboard trying to be Supermom or Superdad, keeping everything in perfect order, and feeling like a failure if you don't. Some chaos is inevitable.

"You have to prioritize what's really important," she said. "A perfectly spotless house is not that important. You have to ask yourself, would you rather spend your time being with your children, or making sure that all the laundry is done? Many mothers are embarrassed or ashamed because they think that they are not handling it well, but that's just part of the normal experience."

Schroeder added that preparation and planning are essential, but taking a relaxed approach and leaving room for learning as you go is also important.

"I was prepared as much as I could be, but once you get them home it's about using your instincts and having lots of patience," she said.

Distinct Multiple Issues
Once multiples get past babyhood, new types of issues crop up, from sibling rivalry, to dealing with group versus individual dynamics, to fending off overly-inquisitive strangers.

Pearlman, who is herself a twin, notes that multiples face unique issues because they share a unique bond, one that singletons can't always fathom.

"With multiples, they develop a relationship that starts in the womb," she said. "Since they don't have it to themselves, they are always accommodating, and always sharing."

Carlo-Stern marvels at the near-telepathic relationship between her kids, which has an upside but also a downside.

"They have this bond between them where they can finish each others' sentences," she said. "They know when the other one is hurting. They are protective of each other, plus being each others' best friends. But they are very competitive, and are constantly trying to outdo each other."

Pearlman said that parents should treasure the siblings' bond, but also try to ensure that their children get playtime both alone, and with kids outside the family, so that they learn to be comfortable in all environments.

"While a singleton has to learn to separate only from the parents, a twin or triplet has to learn to individuate from its siblings as well," she said. "Give alone time to each child, but don't deny the bond between the kids. I know it's hard for parents of twins because they are very, very busy, and their kids tend to spend more time together and not that much individual time, but be aware that there should be a balance."

Scotto, whose boys have a love-hate relationship that is common with multiples, tries to strike that balance by giving each child his own space.

"The rivalry between them is huge," Scotto said. "They are very close, but they fight every day. They are like an old married couple. So each boy has his own set of toys, in his own area of the house. Two sets of everything helps keep the peace."

Schroeder said that her kids also fight, but their ability to socialize with each other brings benefits.

"Even though they get each other into trouble a lot and tend to egg each other on, they are their own playgroup, which makes it easier," she said. "They are good partners in life. I hope it stays that way."

Having time away from their siblings also helps each child develop a healthy sense of individuality in a world where multiples tend to be lumped together, not only by family members, but often by strangers, too.

Pearlman said that nosy but well-meaning people may insist on referring to your multiples as "the twins" or "the triplets" instead of by their names, or may give them monikers such as "the fussy one," "the smart one," or "the quiet one."

"Don't label the children," Pearlman advises. "And don't let other people label them either, because you don't want the kids to internalize that. That gives the child the opportunity to be all of what they are. Just politely tell people 'we don't label our children.'"

Finding Balance
Even though it can seem like your kids' needs are never-ending, taking time out for yourself and your spouse is paramount.

"If you don't have kids already, it can be a huge adjustment to suddenly have so many kids in the house," said Pearlman. "Sometimes you lose sense of who you are and why you exist. That's why it's important to get out for a while, even just to Starbucks. And try to maintain a relationship with your spouse, even if it's just to sit on couch and watch a video while holding hands."

Scotto said that her mother and other relatives have been instrumental in helping out with baby-sitting, which allows her and her husband to have "date nights" with each other.

"It's really important that you have time without the kids, even though you may end up talking about them all the time," Scotto quipped.

Schroeder also feels that date nights are important, and she has even ventured out on family vacations with both sets of her twins. However, her trips are modified to take into account the sheer numbers.

"We have little escapes, but they are really well-planned," she said. "We go on vacation, but the extended family comes along as support. We just do little weekend trips. We don't go very far. Otherwise it's too hard and not very relaxing."

The Big Picture
Despite the major life changes involved with having multiples and the high hurdles parents face, the rewards that can be reaped are also bigger, which the parents say makes it all worthwhile.


"There are tons of stresses, but also joys," Schroeder said. "It's the one extreme of parenting by far. There's times you cry and there's amazing moments, too."

Carlo-Stern, who has three older stepchildren as well as her triplets, said that her life was changed for the better in ways she didn't even anticipate.

"Our family was restructured, but not for the worse," she said. "We had to re-think our schedules and our finances, and the older kids have to help out with the younger ones. But it has made everyone less selfish, and more selfless. I was not ready to be a mom until I was a mom, but now it's the greatest reward."

Scotto said that more kids may equal more work, but also more unconditional love.

"The most rewarding thing is having two to love, two to wrap their arms around you, and two to tell you that they love you," she said. "I like having occasional breaks from the twins, but I'm always counting the minutes until I can see them again."

To contact the Santa Clarita Mothers of Twins Club, call Patty Brauneisen at (661) 702-1001. For information about the Triplet Connection, go to www.tripletconnection.org. To learn more about Dr. Pearlman's resources for parents of multiples, go to www.twinsight.com.


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