Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It Comes With Interchangeable Attachments: Attachment Parenting with Twins [What's What Wednesday Guest Post]

Mama's note: I recently asked Lea Grover at Becoming SuperMommy to write a guest post about her experience of raising twins with attachment parenting ideals. Here's what she has to say on the matter!

The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry…
I had such plans for my motherhood.  I was going to be a perfect Attached Parent.  I was going to have unmedicated deliveries, breastfeed publicly and proudly into my kids’ toddlerhood, and generally uphold all of the crunchy ideals I’d been cultivating since my own hippie-dippy parents started teaching me to question societal norms.  That was before reality struck.
My husband was going through chemotherapy when we decided to have children.  For those of you who don’t know, chemotherapy is VERY BAD for making babies.  It results in all sorts of horrific genetic mutations.  And the effects of chemotherapy on your genetic material can be permanent.  So when we decided to have children, we had to forego our naturalistic ideals and head into the lab.  We used IVF.
There is absolutely nothing natural about getting pregnant this way.  First of all, getting pregnant is supposed to be… well… fun.  This certainly wasn’t.  In fact, while going through the pre-IVF fertility treatments, you have to maintain strict abstinence.  Don’t want to mess up the whole process by accidentally getting pregnant, right?
This was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but there you had it: a completely unnatural conception.  This was immediately followed by a very complicated pregnancy.  First there was a subchorionic hematoma (and the bedrest that went with it), then the SPD that left me unable to stand or walk for the entirety of the first and second trimesters, and then, finally, a third trimester I could almost enjoy while trying desperately not to believe that it would be impossible for me to have the natural delivery I wanted.  Because I was pregnant with twins.
My pregnancy ended with an emergency c-section, after I woke in the middle of the night hemorrhaging violently at 35 weeks.  My twin girls were absolutely fine, only visiting the NICU very briefly to get their blood sugar checked.
This was not what I had wanted.  I had wanted a natural, drug free delivery.  I had wanted to hold my newborn babies in my arms, nurse them immediately, and establish some basic attachment parenting techniques right off the bat.  Oh, how I wanted a different experience!
Despite having a c-section, my milk came in fine.  Despite supplementing with formula immediately (the poor preemie munchkins needed as many calories as they could get) we established nursing well, and within a month we were almost formula free.  But I still wasn’t going to get everything that I wanted.
They say that everything is harder with multiples, and I don’t think that’s true.  Some things are so much easier.  When they’re old enough to play with other babies, the amount of work you need to put into actual parenting diminishes more than you could imagine.  But during those first few months?  It’s not baby plus baby, it’s baby TIMES baby.
My heart goes out to parents of higher order multiples.  I mean, we only have two breasts, right?
Nighttime nursings were so complicated- I couldn’t just roll over and sideline nurse.  I had to get myself into a position where I could tandem nurse- forget sleeping at the same time.  Add on to that the tiny preemie mouths, still learning to latch, still wearying before getting full… each feeding was an ordeal.  First, get up and find a place to nurse.  Next, attach babies.  Next, supplement with bottles (usually of expressed milk)- this part takes two parents.  Next, put babies back to sleep, and pump pump pump!  It took, on average, an hour.  And then you’d wake up an hour and a half later and do it again.  Despite all of it, we kept going.  Even when they were nursing exclusively, I started giving them bottles before the goodnight feeding- those extra full bellies got us sleeping all night- EVERY night- at about three months old.
As for breastfeeding in public, complications screwed with that too.  I’m an ample bossomed woman- with my breasts all full of milk, I topped out at a 34 J cup.  So my breasts were fairly noticeable.  On top of that, to tandem nurse involves pretty much the full removal of a shirt.  And I’m a bit self conscious.  Sitting down at a bench in the zoo, disrobing, and pulling out both of my conspicuously large breasts was… awkward.  To say the least.  I tried employing a nursing shield, but the girls just wouldn’t have it.  I became one of those nursing moms who just had to flee the scene when my kids were hungry.  Or at least find somewhere out of the way and inconspicuous.  Like the back seat of a car.  I was never ashamed of nursing my girls, but I knew we were a spectacle.  A big, occasionally screaming, booby filled spectacle.
There were some things that, despite the challenge of twins, became easier and easier.  Shockingly, the biggest one was babywearing.  I got really good at slinging both girls.  When they were very little, I would wear them both on my chest.  As they got older, one on the back, one on the front or hip.  I always felt like a rock star, wandering the pharmacy wearing my multiples.  It felt like success.
All of the other ideals of attachment parenting were just as simple with two as I imagine they can be with one.  Listening to your children is a skill that you only learn by doing, but listening to two individuals isn’t by any means impossible.  I would go so far as to say that the attachment ideal of learning the language of your baby’s cries is even more important with multiples.  You need to start from the very beginning thinking of them as individuals, not as a set.  And as individuals, they have different wants and needs.  I know it seems silly, but you would be amazed how many twins (especially identical twins) grow into adulthood completely dependent upon each other, incapable of forming meaningful friendships and relationships with others.  Understanding yourself as an individual starts with being recognized as one.
Most importantly, balance.  Attachment parenting is all about balance.  Managing twins is all about balance.  The most important thing you need to keep in perspective, and what I tend to refer to as the Cardinal Rule of Parenting is this: Whatever makes YOU a more functional person IS good parenting.
For me, that meant supplementing with bottles to get past those awful, awful nights.  It meant not having a natural delivery, introducing formula before breastmilk, and (I hate to admit it) letting my kids cry it out once in a great while, because parenting is HARD.  Once in a while if you need to take a break from the brand new full time job of being mommy… take it!  Give yourself a chance to cry, or have a glass of wine, or read a magazine on the toilet.  Whatever it is you need to do to feel like a real person.
The real attachment in attachment parenting isn’t physical.  It doesn’t refer to a latch, or a sling, or a family bed.  It refers to EMOTIONAL attachment.  To loving and understanding your children, to listening to them and responding kindly.  And there are no limits on the amount of love you can give, the number of children you can open your heart and arms to.  Just ask an attached family with three or four children of different ages, all in one family bed.  Or ask a mother with an adopted child.  Or ask a mom of multiples.
You can attach yourself to as many babies as you like, because they are always open to being loved and cared for.  It’s what they do best.  And as parents, the best thing we can do is to love and care for them.

Lea Grover writes Becoming SuperMommy, a blog about her insane and occasionally outrageous life.  She wrangles topics like potty training twins, family planning after brain cancer, the trials of unemployment and continued education, and how a Jew and a Lutheran walked onto a rooftop and said, "I do."  She lives and works- seemingly endlessly but not thanklessly- in Chicago.

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  1. I love this. I wouldn't say that I ever strive to be the perfect AP, but I try my best to keep nursing my 5mo twins as best I can. I have a 2yo toddler too, which makes things even harder. I find that I worry about the lack of one on one with each twin. I love how you say 'Whatever makes YOU a more functional person IS good parenting'. It is so true.

  2. Thank you!!!! I really struggled with balancing my AP ideals with the challenges of newborn twins and 3 kids under 3. It was NUTS! So many things I was able to do with my singleton, I just couldn't manage (in the same way at least) with twins. But, we stumbled along, did what we could, and tried our best. AP does not have to look the same in every family, in every situation!

    And I I SO agree with this:
    "Whatever makes YOU a more functional person IS good parenting." Yes!!!!

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