If it seems like there’s a profusion of twins parked in front of Starbucks in their McClaren Twin Technos, you are not seeing double. The twin birthrate in Connecticut is 25 percent higher than in the rest of the country and continues to rise, in large part thanks to fertility treatments, in vitro fertilization and advanced age of pregnancy.
While the national twin rate has been increasing steadily for the past two decades (up 74 percent since 1980 and 38 percent since 1990), over the past few years it’s been picking up speed — increasing around 2 percent year over year. That’s more than 60,000 new moms of twins annually looking for advice, camaraderie and a little validation.
So, what is it really like to be a mom who does it all — raises two or more same-age children with simultaneous demands, manages a household, wrangles play dates, navigates a two-ton Suburban and often holds down an outside job? We pull back the curtain to reveal just what is involved for a mom of multiples in Fairfield County.
The Twinset Moms
Sage advice from someone who’s been there. In fact Christina was once so hungry for real-world counsel about mothering multiples that she teamed up with longtime friend Cathy Stahl (a Darien mother of four, including a set of fraternal twin boys) to create a consulting business and forum offering practical advice about parenting multiples. In January 2007 they launched a blog and signed a deal with Crown to write Twin Set: Moms of Multiples Share Survive and Thrive Secrets. Due out this summer, the book features a groundbreaking survey that the multitasking moms executed in the midst of Christmas shopping, tending to stomach bugs and creating a presentation for an international consumer products’ company.
Around these parts the proliferation of twins is yesterday’s news, so why focus on the subject now? Jokes Christina, “You mean besides the fact that J-Lo is pregnant with twins?” Seriously, she says, “Despite the fact that you are seeing more and more families with multiples, moms of twins really have to be very proactive in seeking out advice, solutions, twin-friendly toys, destinations, equipment et cetera. We all spend a lot of time and energy communicating with other moms of twins to find accommodating stores and activities, not to mention good pizza joints with enough high chairs for our respective gangs.”
So how do two moms with seven kids under seven find the time to write, blog and consult? Admits Cathy in a typically frank tone, “Over the course of developing and writing our book, Christina and I have maintained standards that are, well, less than professional.
“Once, we had a conference call and wound up locked in the playroom because there were five loud kids elsewhere in the house and we went upstairs for peace and quiet. And by locked, I mean locked. I live in an old house and the door got stuck. We literally could not get out. We had to call the babysitter downstairs on her cell phone to come and save us.
“Sometimes,” she admits, “we feel pretty out of our element, like we’re not
Christina says that moms always have to stay two steps ahead of multiples because they will often thwart your best-laid plans. “For example, the twins were about eighteen months old and I set them up at the kitchen table with coloring books and big washable crayons. I told them to stay put for a minute while I brought the garbage out to the garage. A minute later, when I walked into the room, the two of them were standing on the kitchen table grabbing for the chandelier above. My son had his fingers on it and my daughter was jumping, trying to get hold of it. They were literally trying to swing from the chandelier! My older daughter would never have tried that, and I thought she was mischievous. To me, that sums up the difference between having twins or one kid, or even close-in-age kids.”
With their warts-and-all honesty and relatable anecdotes, Christina and Cathy are onto something: providing sisterly straight-talk to a segment of the population that continues to, forgive the pun, multiply.
She recalls sitting in the wheelchair at Greenwich Hospital postdelivery waiting for her husband to bring the car around: “I had one in a bucket on my lap and one at my feet. I was holding tightly to the one at my feet as a much less stressful version of Sophie’s Choice kept going through my head: If someone grabbed the one near my feet, what would I do? How could I carry both in my condition? I knew then that keeping them safe was going to be an ongoing problem.”
Then came the kicker: nursing two babies simultaneously. “It was completely comical,” relates Cathy. “I would just sit there trying to securely cradle both attached to my breasts. I completely abandoned the idea of being discreet and just stripped down. There was no sitting on a bench in the corner of the park nursing while I kept an eye on my other boys.”
When it came time for baby food, feeding was handled by putting each baby in a high chair, sitting between them and literally spooning food into one mouth at a time in an alternating fashion. “Never leave the bowl of food unattended on either tray, even if they are out of the chairs,” Cathy warns. “I was burned by that one many times.”
If feeding is a circus, caring for two kids with a stomach virus is Cirque du Soleil. “When they are sick, it’s like triage. You have to assess the situation quickly to determine what to do next. One time I had Jack on my lap and he threw up all over the couch and me. As I was stripping him down to move him to a safe spot, Emmet threw up all over the safe spot. What do you do first? I think if they were my first kids, I might have cried. But since they are numbers three and four, I laughed.”
Besides being buried under a mound of soiled burp cloths, tripping over tricycles and ironing out logistical kinks (If I take one out of the bath and put him on the changing table, what do I do with the other one so that he’s safe?), having multiples comes with a hefty price tag. Everything about twins is expensive: diapers, formula, clothes.
“The car upgrade was costly, the double stroller was expensive, the baby nurse was obscene,” says Cathy. “We needed two Pack ’n Plays, two car seats…you get the idea.” She suggests stocking up on gently used gear at the Mothers of Multiples tag sales (see “MOMs to the Rescue!” sidebar).
The Christensens met in college and married a few years after graduating. For the first few years, they traveled and enjoyed each other’s company, never anticipating that postponing children in their early twenties would make having children so thorny just a few years later. Explains Monique, “I first got pregnant when I was twenty-seven but, unfortunately, miscarried. After that it was a long, painful and expensive struggle for us.”
In her quest for motherhood, Monique suffered several miscarriages, three ectopic pregnancies, two emergency surgeries, three in vitro fertilizations and two trans-
Many people ask Monique why, after the first set of twins, she opted to try again. “My husband comes from a family with five children,” she explains. “I am an only child and we really wanted a large family, so that’s how we came to the decision to try and have another child. We were just lucky to have another pair. Why would I want to go through all of that again? Did you take a look at those four beautiful, healthy little kids? Why wouldn’t I?”
Like Mother’s Day morning. “All four come barreling into my bed with their cards and little presents they have made at school saying ‘You’re the best mom, I love you so much.’ What could be better or make a person any happier!”
But the elation at being pregnant with another set of twins was not immediate. Before the second sonogram, Monique convinced herself that her chances of having twins again were slim. “The sonogram set me straight,” she says. “Right away, I knew it was not a single pregnancy. I started crying and could not control myself.”
It Takes a Village
Add in the fact that Will and Kyle required different formulas. “We would make up to sixteen bottles at a time, half on one side of the refrigerator and half on the other, leaving very little room for anything else.”
Monique recalls hitting rock bottom one afternoon when she was home alone and both boys started screaming. “I was on the floor with the two of them in bouncy seats, trying to hold two bottles up, with a cramp in my back. I completely fell apart, I called my mom at work, crying. She came and rescued me. Why I didn’t invent the bibs that hold the bottles up is beyond me!”
Today the Christensen household is a loud, bustling hub of activity. Looking back, the novelty of having twins has waned. “We took the first set of twins to Maine when they were six months old. It took us over an hour to walk about a half mile to town. We were stopped several times. Back then, twins seemed relatively new and different. Everyone wanted to know what it was like to have twins,” she says. “Today, to have twins and four children doesn’t seem that unusual. We no longer stand out.”
Sherry, a part-time administrative assistant, and husband Pete, a letter carrier with the Darien Postal Service, recall being surprised and overjoyed at the news that they were having three babies at once (Pete cried). Sherry recalls, “The only concern we had was for the health of the kids.”
Right off the bat, the Simmels followed doctor’s orders and stuck to a feeding schedule of every four hours, sometimes having to wake one or two babies to keep on track. A crew consisting of Sherry’s mom, sister, aunts and extended family helped out with feedings and such during the days, whenever possible. “We never turned down help,” Sherry says. “My friend Maria came every morning during the week and helped bathe and feed and prepare tons of premade bottles a day. Just before they started regular milk, we were up to two-and-a-half cases of formula a week. My husband estimated that we must have changed 7,000 to 8,000 diapers before the kids were potty trained.”
Because raising triplets is so expensive, the Simmels do their best to provide the kids with things within reason. “We have two computers. When the kids got to middle school, they each got a phone because it’s important nowadays, especially with their crazy activity schedules and school events. We all compromise as a family to make things work.”
Back when the triplets were born, it was such a novelty that both the Greenwich Time and Darien Times wrote articles about the family. Today, although the incidence of triplets has waned since its peak in the late ’90s, triplets are still an exceptional sight.
Sherry says, “We think having one child is special; three is extra special. More important, we were blessed to have them healthy.”
When it comes to bonding or relating to other families with triplets, Sherry says, “Unfortunately, we don’t see many triplet families. We saw one last year at the Trumbull Mall in their triplet stroller and were excited to share with the kids that that was the way they looked when we shopped at the mall years ago. Time goes by so quickly. Pete and I still can’t believe we had three at a time.”
Sherry sums it up, “The best thing about having triplets is that we had our family all at once. There is always excitement and change in our house. They have each other for school and advice. Don’t get me wrong: They bicker like all kids, but they support and help each other all the time. The hardest thing is providing attention when they want us at the same time. We try to do things one on one so that we can give them quality time alone.”