Friday, January 21, 2005

Multiple Attachments: Life Without a Schedule

There is no way you can you practice Attachment Parenting with multiples!
The crucial books for me were Mothering Multiples, rev. ed.; and Keys to Parenting Multiples, both by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada. Gromada is a long-time La Leche League leader, certified lactation consultant, and mom to twin boys who are now in their twenties, plus three other now-grown singletons. She believes that parents, not book authors, are the best experts on their children’s needs; that parents should provide responsive, loving care to their babies and children; and that the parent-child bond is central to all children’s emotional growth, whether the child was a multiple-birth baby or not. Although I read the Sears’ Baby Book, there were and are a great many Sears ideas I wasn’t able to implement fully, babywearing being the most obvious. Too often, I closed the Sears' books feeling guilty more than helped, so I learned to leave them alone. Also, I lost patience with their tendency to call parents who make different choices detached. What a crock.

In practical terms, I learned to spend a lot of time on the floor, cuddling one baby while stroking another’s body if they were fussy, and relied on swings and bouncers when my arms were full. I could nurse/rock one baby while gently bouncing two others in vibrating bouncers with my feet, and I kept my feet clean and bare to increase skin-to-skin contact. I tried using Snuglis and Baby Bjorns, but my back took a beating during the pregnancy and they weren’t very comfortable. When I discovered slings at about 14 months, I started wearing my toddlers more: I wish I’d discovered Kangaroo Korner and the Maya Wrap when the babies were tiny and still in the in-arms stage.

No, seriously, how did you feed three babies without a schedule?

For the first six months, I staggered the babies’ first feed of the day and then let each baby ask to eat after that, with a bit of nudging to keep them staggered as much as possible. On most days, that meant each baby got a half-hour block of time, so I would feed babies at 8am, 8:30am, and 9am, then at 11am, 11:30am, and 12pm. In theory, I mean. In practice, the babies would switch positions all over the place, because like I already wrote, Wilder wanted to eat every 2 to 3 hours while Gemma wanted to eat every 3 to 4 hours. And all of them wanted to eat more frequently as the day went on. And the babies who nursed wanted to eat sooner than the babies who got formula. And regardless of the clock, none of my babies seemed to have been equipped with internal chronometers, and some days were more hectic than others. I still vividly remember one nightmare day when for whatever reason, I was nursing one baby at the top of each hour from 8am until 7pm, when Calder came home and we did our daily group top-off feeding to trigger the nighttime, two-adults routine.

True confession: I had panic attacks in the early months. I could not tolerate the thought of two babies getting hungry and screaming to be fed at one time, and at first, I had no confidence that I could do anything to avoid that possibility. Throughout April and May 2001, there were many days when Calder would go on campus at 8:30am, give his lecture, pick up his mail, and be home by noon. I was so lucky that he had that kind of flexibility. Often, on a Friday, he would take one baby to work with him, too. That was marvelous and amazing—going from three babies to two was such a release. Calder also had a sabbatical from the university for the entire 2001-2002 academic year. I’m pretty sure that we couldn’t have been so flexible at home without his consistent presence at home. Even with that, though, he insisted we hire a mother’s helper in late April 2001, and until she had to leave in mid-June 2001 (her son was finished with school for the year), I was able to relax three mornings a week, knowing there was another pair of hands available to comfort crying babies. Also, she did laundry, washed the boxes of hand-me-down toys, and kept me company. If I could do it over again, I would have hired her earlier. I didn’t because I was sick to death of nurses hovering over me at the NICU and wanted to be home alone, must me and my husband and our babies. Competing interests collided.

If I could do it over again, besides making a whole host of different breastfeeding choices, I would have practiced modified demand feeding. Without getting into a convoluted explanation, you start by feeding one or two babies at a time, feed the remaining babies all in a row, then wait for the hungriest baby to demand food again, then rouse the other two and feed them. It takes some of the pressure off, and allows for the possibility that the babies will nap at roughly the same time. Ah well—I’m not going to go out and conceive triplets again just to prove to myself I can do it correctly this time.

For the first four or six months, we didn’t have terribly formal bedtimes. Calder and I would feed the babies downstairs while we watched television, then line them up in bouncers or on our laps and let them fall asleep. The babies would wake again anywhere between 9:30 and 10:30pm, we would do their last downstairs feed, and then take them up to bed. They slept all together in one crib in our bedroom for about two and a half months,* then in separate cribs in the nursery after that. Gemma went through a period in May and June 2001 when she refused to drink from a bottle, and Elba did the same thing in (I think) August and September. Wilder was on special formula and nursed once a day at most for most of the summer of 2001, but as the girls’ nursing tapered off, he increased his time at the breast until, by mid-November 2001, Wilder did nothing but breastfeed. Then, in a stirring testimony to the power of the breast, Wilder went on refusing milk in cups and bottles for another 18 months. He went from being a non-nursing infant to a non-stop nursing toddler.

By around six months, we formalized bedtimes. I would nurse one baby down in the glider in the nursery while Calder cuddled the other two downstairs in the living room, offering a bottle of formula if someone was especially fussy. Then, I would nurse another baby down while, most of the time, the third baby would fall asleep with DH. (Calder has fond memories of rocking Gemma down in his office while "The Dark Side of the Moon" played softly in the background.) As the babies fell asleep, we would lay them in their cribs. By around nine months, Wilder always went first for nursing: besides the fact that he was beginning to refuse all formula around then, he also fell asleep the fastest. It was the rarest of nights when he wasn’t lying limp and unconscious, a tiny dribble of breastmilk at the corner of his mouth, by the time "All the Pretty Little Horses" was playing on the stereo. Then I would nurse either Elba or Gemma, depending on who was fussier. It was, I’m sorry to say, pretty consistently Elba who rated second in my arms by Christmas, and I’m sure that’s why Gemma stopped nursing just before her first birthday. One night, she just didn’t want to be bothered taking the breast. I was heartbroken, and I still worry that it hurt our bond: she’s my child most likely to run hot and cold. And she’s been Calder’s favorite since birth, something that would bother me less if only Elba didn’t so obviously push every button he’s got. Troublesome, that, not just for Elba’s sake, but because she’s so much like me.

This bedtime routine was time- and labor-intensive. What also proved increasingly difficult was the co-sleeping I adopted in desperation as Wilder and Elba showed no signs of sleeping through the night: I kept on laying them down in their cribs at bedtime, but as they woke, I would bring them to bed with Calder and I. When Gemma started waking at night because of molar pain just after her first birthday, it all started to seem too overwhelming. Also, Calder started looking ahead to the end of his sabbatical year and realizing that he didn’t have too many more 60-90 minute bedtimes left in him. Everything converged such that, in May 2001, we removed the cribs from the nursery, laid a king-sized mattress on the floor, and at bedtime I began lying down with the babies until they fell asleep. I would lie on right side, Wilder would nurse my right breast (it was the only one that produced any sort of measurable milk at all by then), Elba would drape herself up my back and across my side and nurse my left breast, and Gemma would lay her head on my outstretched left hand. At first, I stayed in the room until everyone fell asleep. By the time the babies were 22 months, I would nurse for 10 to 15 minutes but leave the room with everyone still awake—although Wilder continued to collapse into sleep while nursing, and even now, he’s often asleep just seconds after saying good night, while the girls will lie in bed and chat for as long as half an hour. When someone woke up, I would return to the nursery, crawl onto the mattress in between them, and fall asleep nursing or cuddling. We switched to toddler beds in November 2003, and the routine has been a little unpredictable since then: sometimes I lie on the nursery floor until everyone’s asleep, sometimes Calder does, sometimes I say goodnight and leave.

As for that hallowed goal, Sleeping Through the Night: Gemma started sleeping 12 hours uninterrupted at about 10 months; she did six hours’ sleep as early as 2 months. Elba slept 12 hours at around 10 months too, but she would wake at 4am for a quick nursing session (or a bottle—what can I say, I was tired) until she was just about 15 months old. Wilder, alas, had rotten sleep habits—probably due to the reflux, although maybe it’s just Wilder’s personality, he’s still a very wakeful kid—and as late as 26 months, he would sleep only 10 hours at night, with one night-nurse at 1am and another at 5am as well. I thought I was in it for the long haul, but he gave up the 1am session and then the 5am session all in a rush, and started sleeping straight through at 29 months. It’s deeply strange how all-consuming the question of uninterrupted sleep felt at the time, and how long ago those sleepless nights now feel. (The kids are doing their part to remind me, though, by having vivid nightmares and crawling into bed at all hours in search of comfort. It seems as if most daytime stresses—moving, preschool, potty training—invariably show up at night.)

Naptime was a challenge. Until about 9 months, each baby had a separate but overlapping nap schedule because each had his or her own feeding routine. I vividly remember my surprise one afternoon in July 2001, during my friend Diane’s visit, when all three babies napped in their bouncers together for two whole hours. Normally, I never got that much down time. I confess, it wore on me: naptime was when I most wanted just to leave the babies in their cribs and walk away, crying be damned. Starting at around 9 months, after we’d introduced solids and the babies’ schedules overlapped so much more, I started planning and hoping for regular morning and afternoon naps, and I wasn’t shy about using swings to lull any resistors. Typically Wilder would nurse down quickly, as would Gemma if Elba didn’t scream her head off at being forced to wait to nurse (tandem nursing not being an option because I had only one productive breast), but the challenge was to get all three down for a nap with enough time left for me to breathe before the first woke up again. I can’t think of a single babycare book that offers even marginally useful advice about naptimes, and I can’t think of a single issue more likely to drive me around the bend than failing to get the babies to nap. (One good idea that didn’t work for us, but worked for a TC poster I adore, was to lay down with all three babies on the floor, nursing and cuddling until they fell asleep--and then sneak away.) At the babies’ one-year appointments, my pediatrician actually suggested what I’d already started doing: car naps. I would say from 10-14 months, the babies took at least 1 car nap a week -- they would sleep for 2 hours in the car. Meanwhile, starting at around 13 months, after Elba had outgrown the swing -- which had been her nap location of choice -- I switched everyone to cribs for naptime. If someone hadn’t fallen asleep within 10 minutes of nursing, I would lay her down awake in the crib, explaining what I was doing. Amazingly, Elba, who had depended so much on the swing, took to the crib without a peep, and immediately went from being my best napper but in the swing to the best napper in the crib. Wilder just went on being the breast man he was, needing his five or ten minutes to fall into a milk-induced haze, while Gemma mostly took to the crib but fussed for 5 or 10 minutes before settling. Because Gemma wasn’t nursing any more, the fact that she was the baby whose fussing I most often waited out caused me endless anxiety. I still imagine her reading my journals some day and saying, "ah ha, this is why I’ve always thought you loved me least." Arg.

By eighteen months or so, we didn’t need car naps anymore. The girls would nap in a crib and a pack-n-play in the master bedroom, while Wilder nursed down in the nursery. Between reliable 2.5-hour naps and the babies' increased mobility, the "two's" were an amazing, wonderful year for me. The kids gave up their naps entirely just after our move this past June, but no one had really been sleeping very well since their third birthday. Often, the girls would chat for an hour or more, then fall asleep and nap until 5pm, throwing bedtime into chaos, while Wilder (who stopped nursing at naps ... hmm, I don’t even remember when) would often have just laid in bed staring at the ceiling or reading a book, and of course would have a meltdown if we didn’t get him to bed at night as soon as possible. It was easier, finally, just to give up my dreams of a daytime break in return for earlier, easier bedtimes.

How were you able to hold them all enough?

For the first year, because of the staggered feeding schedule over the first nine months and then the stair-stepped naps (especially in the morning), I had a lot of one-on-one time with each baby. This was frankly one of the things that kept me going with attachment parenting when I had playdates with moms who propped bottles, laid everyone in cribs and shut the door. I didn’t have as much time for myself, Calder, or the house, but I had a lot more time with each baby alone. After the NICU, and in the context of multiples, that one-on-one time was precious to me.

*The whole beginning was such a blur, it wasn't until I wrote to Tertia about sleep habits that I remembered Calder and his mom putting the babies to sleep one night in their cribs in the nursery, and realized that we must have moved them there by mid-April. I was always making those mistakes back then, overestimating just how long a particular stage or phase had lasted. I just didn't realize those misimpressions would have such a long shelf life.

Coming Next: Answering the Critics

1 comment:

Leann said...

I'm impressed, I have twins and do a lot of your techniques with them, because even with "only" two babies there's just not enough of me to go around. Thankyou for the recap of your life with your babies.