written by: Taylor Shook
Having twins is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and my preparation for multiples was, in retrospect, only partially helpful as there is so much I never thought to ask or even thought of in the first place. Although I felt prepared leading up to my hospitalization and their birth, the truth is, I’m still learning every day what being a mom of multiples means. Here’s a little of my experience, and I hope you’ll find it valuable!
At 16 weeks gestation, I had my first perinatal appointment where it was confirmed I was carrying monochorionic monoamniotic (mono-mono or mo-mo) twins. According to the doctors, this type of twins is rare – about one percent of twin pregnancies and 0.1 percent of all pregnancies — and extremely high risk for them. Before this initial perinatal appointment, I researched types of twin pregnancies to learn what I might experience. Let’s just say this research is not recommended but did prepare me for exactly what the perinatologist shared. I learned to prepare for the possible loss of one or both babies, mandatory hospitalization at 28 weeks (if I could even make it that far along), and birth by no later than 34 weeks. It was also likely I could deliver sooner based on their progress. Hospitalization was the last thing I wanted to do, but it was best for the twins, so 28 weeks became my goal: “if we could just make it to the milestone weeks” was my mantra.
As a full-time working parent, I had conversations with supervisors and Human Resources, making arrangements to work from the hospital as long as the doctors agreed. I was blessed to be able to work until the day I delivered which afforded me the full maternity leave offered through my workplace. Leading up to the expected hospitalization at 28 weeks, I also informed my supervisors, friends, and family that I could be hospitalized or deliver the twins at any time, according to the specialist. I was not prepared to have so many appointments for scans, sonograms, and check-ups based on what other pregnant women said of their experiences. Moms of multiples/high-risk moms: expect to have more frequent OB appointments! I embraced these appointments which served as my safe place post-visit when we knew everything was going well.
Since the twins were developing appropriately, I began working on a registry and sharing the news that we were pregnant with twins! I waited as long as possible to share the pregnancy news and high risk information mostly out of my own fear of loss. Everyone immediately fell in love with the idea of the twins and constantly assisted with gathering items. To be honest, I had no idea what we needed for one baby, much less two, so I read reviews, blogs, and price-checked, especially the larger cost items like cribs and car seats. Researching everything helped immensely and gave me a better sense of what to expect and how to prepare both myself and others for multiples.
I relied so much on the strong support of family and friends. I kept our close family and friends informed of progress and also asked for an expedited Babies Shower before hospitalization. Of course, I was never totally sure this would happen, being so high risk, but my aunt worked diligently and I am forever grateful! This celebration was so important to me because, despite all the preparation, I knew there was a chance I would deliver sooner than expected. And even if not, I would still miss some important pregnancy fun: a maternity shoot, holidays at home, being able to satisfy cravings, completing the nursery, and more. Through the generosity of family and friends, we were almost completely set with material items for the babies and had a schedule ready for my hospitalization, making sure our oldest sons would be cared for in my absence and while my husband worked or stayed with me. In my mind, we were all set to have the babies and bring them home!
I realized quickly during my hospitalization that things can change in a flash. Neither myself nor my husband anticipated the heart-wrenching moments when I’d call pleading for him to get to the hospital, panicked that he wouldn’t make it (from over an hour away), because the babies were having problems and may need to be delivered. Because of these scares and all the unknowns, my mom spearheaded a never-leave-Taylor-alone campaign: something that I encourage for other hospitalized moms, if possible. Before hospitalization and the near-delivery scares, I felt strong enough to be alone while the babies were monitored there.
Through all the scares and the information I learned early on about the high risks, it was also determined that I would have a cesarean birth. I never imagined that route and I am glad only a few friends could weigh in because they all frightened me with horror stories of emergency C-sections! I often thought I was doomed to this horrific birth story, but I had a fantastic, even enjoyable, C-section surgery experience, and recovery was not as terrible as anticipated. If you are a mom of multiples, I encourage you to ask early if you should prepare for a cesarean birth so you can research and gather appropriate supplies and clothes for recovery. Those friends with horror stories at least helped me prepare for this part of the recovery, but I asked the doctors and nurses what to expect on delivery day and post-birth for the specific medical information. The medical side prepared me for pre-delivery, but the information never prepared me post-birth.
A few things I did not expect post-delivery and pre-discharge:
• I had a surgery and would actually need to rest and recover (why did I not realize this?!)
• I would feel empty (literally) and overly emotional about everything.
• I would have to wait for hours to meet my babies after birth.
• I would not get to hold or kiss my babies for almost a week after birth.
• NICU life (I knew they’d be there, but it was not at all what I imagined)
• I would ask my husband to spend more time in NICU than with me.
• I would be discharged just 3 days after delivery, leaving my babies in NICU.
• I would miss the “safety” of the hospital room I stayed in for over a month.
Despite what I didn’t know and how I felt physically, the emotional drain was overwhelming more than anything else and no one ever warned me about this. I wish I had been more prepared for that and for the twins’ NICU stay. A neonatologist did briefly discuss the possibility of the NICU, but hearing the information and experiencing it are two very different things. I was scolded by a nurse for touching my babies, I had no idea of the severity of their situation or what the wires, machines, beeping, etc. meant for the first week. I couldn’t hold or nurse the twins without permission for almost two months, and I had to leave them with strangers (granted qualified strangers). Just thinking about this now still brings me to tears. Even so, as the twins progressed in the NICU, we became more comfortable with their situation, asking questions, and advocating for them/us. I am so grateful for the time there. The nurses taught me so much about caring for them from different perspectives which helped when we finally brought them home.
As a mom of multiples, I also want to stress what I was told in NICU: it is unlikely both babies get discharged at the same time. This was something I still hoped for and I was disappointed and sometimes frustrated when they weren’t discharged together. Though I was prepared to stay in Tampa, having secured a room at Ronald McDonald House (thank you a million) because the hour commute was too far, it was more difficult and uncomfortable than I pictured. I wasn’t prepared for the guilt I would feel being an hour away from home and our oldest sons, which escalated when Taitun was discharged and my heart broke having to leave Tellas in the NICU while we settled Taitun in at home.
I also wasn’t prepared for so many of the health professionals to try to dissuade me from breastfeeding twins (still going strong at 19 months now by the way) and then for the difficulty of providing milk for them when they were in two different places. No one told me of the roller coaster life NICU, post-partum, and starting a new chapter this significant would bring. So, as you read, I want you to know this and know you are not alone and everything you feel matters. I didn’t learn this for months after the twins came home.
In the almost 3 months of hospitalization (myself and the twins) and the first few months of having the twins home, my husband and I learned preparing for multiples goes well beyond pregnancy and birth. We gained unexpected wisdom from the doctors and nurses caring for us. We felt the emotions of separation, temporary disconnection, fear and anxiety, joy, love, and hope. In coming home, we learned all the preparation in the world doesn’t mean things won’t change. We often make it up as we go, taking each new milestone, illness, discovery, smile, month, day, hour, in stride. Preparing for multiples means more than gathering material items, medical information, or friendly advice. When you prepare for multiples, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is you’ve got to prepare your mind that you can’t know every single detail or have a specific plan: things change, you adapt, and you do the best you can for yourself and your children. I’ve got a lot of love for parents in general and even more for parents of multiples. There’s a wealth of resources worth connecting to (including myself and HRH) as you navigate through your own high-risk pregnancy and life with multiples. Thank you for reading part of my story and good luck to you on your own fantastic journey!