"So what's the advantage of having twins?" I asked an old friend, halfway through my high-risk twin pregnancy, and fully in the grip of discomfort and fear.
My friend had twins a year older than mine, and she barely missed a beat with her reply. "The advantage? You get to have two."
I've always loved the clarity of her response. In contrast, the question of what's "easy" and "hard" about raising a duo is more nuanced. Everyone's situation is different, but here are my personal top three ways in which parenting twins has felt smooth and straightforward -- and then two ways it's sometimes been tough.
1. Letting go of perfection happens fast.
In my pre-twin life, I pictured parenthood as the seamless tending of a swaddled singleton. I imagined I would cradle a sleepy baby for hours in a glider, or stroll to the coffee shop. I would breastfeed effortlessly and everywhere, and later, I'd serve dinners that featured kale and quinoa. Fast forward to the birth of twins. Perfectionism was tossed aside in the name of simply keeping the babies alive and attempting to occasionally sleep. Though this lowering of the bar may sound sad, in fact it opened the door to many more unexpected joyful times and incredible feats of teamwork with my husband. It helped purge me of unrealistic expectations and cultivate a get-it-done mentality that has made more room for simple happiness. Certain parenting questions were answered immediately. We would keep our twins on a schedule. We would "sleep train" when the doctors said we could, and meals would involve take-out and odd concoctions. As one twin mom friend of mine described the early years with twins: "You're just happy your husband is over there giving them a granola bar because they aren't starving."
2. The twin bond will melt your heart.
Much is said about the importance of cultivating twins' individuality -- less about the beauty of the bond they'll always share. There is something undeniably magical about children arriving as a pair. Their siblinghood can be a lifelong bulwark against loneliness -- and certainly boredom. With my twins, the early walker used to push the late walker around in a plastic car. They have sucked each other's thumbs and picked each other's noses. They walked into the first weeks of preschool holding hands. They drive each other to hysterical giggling. My husband and I still have to enforce the rule recitation, "No hitting, no biting, no pushing, no poking eyes and no scratching arms," but more and more what my sons practice is empathy and collaboration. At home, on vacation, quite often, they entertain each other.
3. Twin and triplet moms are amazing.
My connections to other parents of multiples, through my twins club and otherwise, have made me richer in wise advice, in kindness, and in solidarity. When I was pregnant with my twins, my fellow twin moms listened to me weep. When my sons were born, they answered questions at all hours, offered free gear and easy company. When one of my children wasn't walking at 20 months, a twin mom I barely knew spoke to me for over an hour from her vacation about her own daughter's physical therapy. My twin-parent community is my proverbial "village" that it takes to raise a child -- or in this case, two.
1. The period immediately after twins are born.
I'd guess the most Googled question for new twin moms is, "When does it get easier?" The first months home with infant twins have an intensity that's hard to describe to anyone who hasn't experienced it. It's a baptism that's less like a dribble of water on the head and more like a dunking in the rough ocean. For me, attempting to breastfeed while recovering from a C-section felt torturous. Leaving the house felt like preparing for a mission with Seal Team Six. I like to say that time is basically a slow emergency, with interludes of beauty thrown in. Strangely, I look back at those early months with nostalgia -- but it was definitely hard.
2. Other people.
One of the hardest things about having twins is getting other people on board with how you are going to structure your days, and how different twins are from singletons. Friends and family might not understand why your nap period is crucially important to you, and may offer well-meaning but entirely frustrating advice about how you should lighten up. Then there are people who outright pity you -- e.g. the random person on the street who says something obnoxious as you trudge up the hill with a double stroller. They're rare, but they make you wish you'd added a taser to your baby registry. After our twins were born, some of our friends vanished into the mist.
Of course, it's also "other people" who've made the twin-parenting journey especially joyful -- our many friends who didn't disappear, our families, and the new friends we've made in twinland and beyond. I raise my coffee mug to all the fabulous people who've been with us along the way, and all the moms and dads of multiples out there in the big beautiful madness.
K.K. Goldberg is author of The Doctor and the Stork: A Memoir of Modern Medical Babymaking, a book about twins, twin pregnancy, and pregnancy after IVF, meant to amuse, comfort, commiserate and distract.