Breastfeeding. Just typing the word makes me feel all warm and cozy and capable. To have my arms cradling a sweet little one while it draws milk from my body, to feel the letdown – which is such a crazy term because it is NOT a letdown at all – is quite simply the greatest maternal high in the world. I can’t even put into words the feelings the word evokes. God gifted me with two mammarian green thumbs, and I have been fortunate enough to use them for not one, not two, but FOUR little ones.
So today, I devote my musings to the nursing of twins. Some people will tell you it is impossible. Still others, when they learn you’re doing it, will tell you you’re crazy, or heroic, or unbelievable. I’m here to tell you that you are none of those things. You’re just doing what you’re doing for the good of your tiny twosome. And I’m also here to tell you it can be done. Don’t listen to the naysayers. DO listen to the cheerleaders. Gobble up the kudos and the accolades – to carry you through the tough times — because there are plenty of those. But keep on giving it a go. It is so, SO worth it.
Now nursing twins is a bit more of a challenge, it’s true. I thought I used lanolin cream on my nipples for just one!!! I should’ve bought stock in the stuff. (And I highly recommend roughing those milk makers up early – wet washcloths and heavy tweaking as early as you can. You are in TRAINING mama!) Which brings me to the football hold that you’ll need to master if you feed them at the same time, which I highly recommend — otherwise, you are a 24-hour diner for cranky customers with the mega-munchies. (As it is, it’s STILL feels like that sometimes…) For tandem feedings, clutch those little suckers (see what I did there?) so that their noses face your underarms, their legs wrap ‘round your back. The football hold felt odd at first. I was used to babies being able to stare up at me with their sweet little milk-glazed eyes while they nursed. With the boys, I could still see their tiny faces – just not as easily – and I often had to be content with rubbing their fuzzy bird-heads instead. But what better way for a football coach’s wife to feed her mini linebackers?
Just like in football — where pads are a prerequisite — nursing twins requires additional gear: an ample, sturdy pad called a twin boppy. Now there was no such thing as boppies when the girls were babies, and I had absolutely no idea what one even WAS going into my final pregnancy. (I still don’t know why it’s called a boppy — it sounds violent and Flintstonian to me, like something Bam Bam would carry around) But I do know I couldn’t have nursed my boys without it. It saved my back, shoulders and neck from traditional football mayhem. A twin boppy is truly not like the other, singleton varieties. It is firm, flat-surfaced and fits squarely around you, latching at the side to provide the babies their own solid latching surface. We got ours from Baby’s R Us, and while it didn’t have all the latest giraffe or chevron patterns or come in poetic colors like teaberry or silver mist or pink pebble (‘twas a plain pale green), the functionality is what matters most.
Deciding to nurse and finding the right boppy is the easy part. But I’m also here to tell you the dirty truth. (And there are lots of dirty little truths to reveal.) It’s not all soft lighting and rocking chair dreams. There’s a whole lot of shit-storms (breastfed babies have WAY MORE dirty diapers than formula fed ones – and they are mustard yellow and climb up baby backs like alien life-forms almost every single day), spilled milk to cry over (that old adage is bullshit) and clogged ducts (I sported a clogged duct that turned my right breast into a cauliflower wedge for days. I packed cabbage leaves in my bra, expressed milk in a hot shower, and even nursed the boys upside down — nothing worked until, miraculously on the morning of the third day, I rose and it had vanished. I had harrowed hell), and don’t EVEN get me started on going without caffeine and hard liquor for nearly two years…
No, nursing twins is not easy. Now with the girls, nursing was fairly trouble free (self-imposed prohibition, aside). My milk supply was abundant — to quote my grandma, “I could’ve squirted a stream clear across the room and blinded a man.” When letdown hit, I would darn near choke the girls. They would sputter and mew amidst a milk facial nearly every morning. And I never, ever had to use a supplement. The boys were another story, though. Getting enough milk to feed them wasn’t the problem — but getting enough milk for storage through pumping was another story entirely. Nursing one, you can hook up the other udder to the pump and BOOM, you’ve got six to eight ounces. Not so, when there are two. For a while I tried pumping after the boys were finished nursing, but I just wasn’t getting enough to sustain them for very long once I went back to work. So I began reserving one feeding session a day for formula so I could pump and store. Besides, because the boys were in the NICU for about a week, we were required to give them supplemental formula in the beginning to insure they were getting a certain amount of food in their tiny little systems. So we chose the bedtime feeding, and Mike or my mom or visiting sister or kind-hearted friend (or any other kind, charitable soul who took pity on us in those early days) scored the sweet pleasure of feeding them and tucking them tight into their swaddles, truly one of the most magical of moments.
Now part of what makes breastfeeding so wonderful is the convenience, along with cost-efficiency. Heating bottles of formula is hard enough when you have one wee bairn, but it is downright torturous when you have two, colicky, howling lads on your hands. And buying double the amount of formula can put a family living on teacher salaries in the poorhouse. Thankfully, we didn’t have to supplement with a lot. Still, it was enough that when Mike and I discovered the Baby Brezza within that first month, we were more than over-the-moon happy; we were game-winning-Hail-Mary-touchdown happy. Simply put, the Baby Brezza is like a baby Keurig machine that mixes the formula with water and fills the bottle to the appropriate amount at the perfect temperature in seconds. It is a mechanical wonder cow worth every single, solitary, exorbitant cent. (It ain’t cheap, let me tell you. Put it on your shower registry. Like now.)
Oh, and since breastfed babes are far less likely to sleep through the night (breast milk breaks down in their systems faster and they get hungrier sooner), we strategically chose bedtime for formula time. We were playing our odds, hoping for a few more precious minutes of shut-eye. Unfortunately, I think the boys saw our hope and raised it, then watched it come crashing down like a house of cards as they jumped up and down on it for good measure — to the tune of sixteen months of sleepless nights. Now sixteen months with no sleep sounds bad enough, but quantify by stating that sometimes they were up seven times a night (times two, mind you), with us only getting fifteen to twenty minute snatches of sleep at a time, which all equates to Mike and I being up twelve to fourteen times a night for months and months and months… the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. And by greater, I mean mammoth and brutal. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Now I’m not saying that they would’ve slept better on formula. I have no idea. I will say that nursing them when they woke up that many times a night was by far so much easier and less time consuming than preparing a blasted bottle every single time. I am saying that. Absolutely. So that’s something…
But perhaps the biggest of hurdles we ran into while breastfeeding twins had to do with Parker’s milk protein allergy. Poor little Bear just couldn’t process dairy. It caused him horrible belly cramps and constipation. Before we figured out what was wrong, there were long and torturous nights when we thought for sure that our baby had a kink in his colon or a hole in his intestines, he was so inconsolable and so contorted. Once we discovered the truth, we could only use Nutramigen formula as a supplement– which costs even more than traditional formulas – and I could no longer have any dairy at all. Now that might sound innocuous, but let me tell you, it was pure devilry, the things I had to give up. (I had thought coffee and vodka were tough!) Not only was milk now off limits, but all kinds of favorite foods: blue cheese, Greek yogurt, vanilla milkshakes, classic pepperoni pizza, mozzarella-slathered lasagna, cookies chock full of chips, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, fresh-baked banana bread… Lets’ face it, the baked goods hit me the hardest. Cheesy foods were difficult, mind you, but my sweet tooth is legendary. It’s insatiable. I bake – I learned early so I could soothe the savage bicuspid. I have a red velvet brownie recipe that could achieve world peace. I make chocolate chip scones that could bring the Brits back to their sensibilities and reverse the Brexit vote. I thought I was a goner when I learned I had to give up my sweets. The only thing that got me through that dietary drought is Oreos. Oreos! Milk’s best friend! (oh, isn’t it ironic???) Oreos are dairy free — completely and utterly. They are also my choke collar for a savage sweet tooth that hates to be denied (because me and a hangry sweet tooth are truly a force to be reckoned with).
So what makes nursing twins worth it, particularly in the wake of food allergies and strict dietary restrictions, football holds and sleepless nights? What makes having the equivalent of four little parasites hanging off my teats (as my physicist/farmer father would say) for the cumulative sum of four years worth it? When I try to rationalize it, at least for the boys and the twenty three months that I nursed them, I tell myself that I was giving them as much of me as I possibly could for as long as I possibly could because the girls will always have twenty seven years and twenty four more years’ time with me than the boys will. I was trying to make up just a little of that quantity with quality.
I also tell myself I nursed for the medical reasons we all have read about: how our bodies produce the perfect infant nutrition; how nursing reduces a mother’s risk of breast cancer and female babies’ risks later in life; how it’s easily digestible and comes in a ready package; how it boosts infant immune systems resulting in less sick days for parents and babies, etc. The list goes on and on. You can look up the research yourself. And I’ll even admit right here in black and white that I’ve squirted breast milk in all four of my children’s eyes and ears to help combat pink eye and ear infections. – with success, mind you. And while I think all of these are part of it, it still doesn’t truly explain why breastfeeding twins and singletons for so many years of my life made it worth it. Ultimately it’s the connection that is made. And that connection is impossible to understand, much less verbalize. There is some sort of emotional and physiological cocktail created, a narcotic that hooks a mother to her child in the strongest of bonds for all of eternity. The connection is emotional, physical, and spiritual. Those babies are flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood, consuming the God-given milk and honey of my temple. It is like no other communion in the universe. It is the holiest thing I’ve ever done.
So yes, while breastfeeding twins is hard, it is not impossible. Still, it is a pretty exclusive club. If you think about it, only one-half of the population can nurse a child (and while I feel sad that father’s can’t, I must also admit that I’m selfishly happy that God made us the ovens and gave us the food trucks). Of that half, only a small portion have twins, (although the number is growing rapidly, thanks to IVF, etc). And an even smaller portion of those twin mothers actually breastfeed. So it’s an exclusive club, but we’re accepting new members every day. Come on, join the N.I.TW.I.T.S.: Nursing Infant TWins Into Toddler Stage. (So, maybe it’s not the best acronym, but I kinda like it… If it’s good enough for Professor Dumbledore after sorting first years into their respective houses (Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!), it’s good enough for us (with a slight adulteration): Nitwits! Boppies! Ointment! Tweak!