"I think maybe I wasn't meant to be a mom," I said out loud to myself on a run in the park, giving voice to all the insecurities that made what little sleep I got those days a shallow, paranoid slumber where every creak in my apartment and every ruffling of sheets sounded like a baby crying. My mom was home watching my newborn twin boys, Nate and Theo, while I got some exercise for the first time since giving birth. The park was swarming with strollers helmed by confidence-beaming mothers, and though I'd wanted to be in their club for so long, I didn't feel like I was now that I had kids of my own. I had a bad case of postnatal I'm-a-totally-crappy-mom syndrome and it seemed like motherhood was something that came naturally to all women except for me.
Fourteen months later, I know that it doesn't come naturally for everyone and I also know that I'm a pretty decent mom. My boys seem to love me, and my wife, Emily, thinks I'm an amazing parent (she is, too!). And I stroll in the park with Nate and Theo with a reasonable amount of confidence on most days. It didn't happen overnight, but it did happen. Here's how I learned to trust myself:
#1 Spend time alone with your baby.
"Get as much help as you can," everyone warned me when I was pregnant. Terrified, I did just that. I lined up help for the first two months of the boys' life. After Emily and I brought Nate and Theo, 5 pounds and change each, home, we also welcomed a live-in baby nurse into our apartment for the first week (a generous gift from Emily's parents). When she left, my mom came from Denver and slept on our couch for a full month (another incredibly generous gift -- thanks, Mom!), followed by my sister Karen for one week, and then my sister Beth for another. After all the family had gone, Emily took two weeks off of work to be home with me and the kids. The result: They were 9 weeks old and I hadn't been alone with my sons for more than an hour since I came home from the hospital, and I was beginning to wonder if I could ever handle them on my own. I dreaded the day Emily had to return to work and I cried at the prospect of feeding, changing, and caring for the boys alone. I didn't think I could do it. In fact, the day before she was due back at her office, we made frantic, last-minute calls to prospective babysitters who might be available to help me out. None were free.
But then it happened. Emily left for work and I was left with two little boys who were hungry for my attention. And it was incredible. For the first time, I was able to parent the way I wanted to parent, not the way that I thought the nurse or my mom or my sisters wanted me to. I could blast Prince and dance around with the babies without being embarrassed. I could stick the boys in their bouncy seats while I checked my email or read magazines without worrying that someone would judge me for doing so. I could cry as much as I wanted to. And I realized that not only could I absolutely take care of the twins by myself, I could actually enjoy it.
#2 Stop reading.
I had been reading a book that many other twin mothers had sworn "saved their lives." It was all about schedules and how to get your baby to sleep through the night. According to the author, my babies needed to nap for 45 minutes (and no more!) in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon. They should absolutely not sleep after 3:00 pm, the book said. They should eat a certain number of ounces at each feeding. If not, they wouldn't sleep through the night and they probably wouldn't be happy at all (and, by default, neither would we).
I wanted to be a good mom and get my guys on a predictable schedule, and I certainly wanted them to sleep through the night (the holy grail of new parenthood), but Nate and Theo wouldn't play along. Meanwhile, I became obsessed with the book and constantly read passages from it, in total frustration, to Emily. "The book says we should wake them." (But they were sleeping soundly.) "The book says they should be happy to play right now." (But they were crying.) "The book says they should be asleep by now," I whined to her one evening when she was playing with the boys. "Why don't you throw that book away?" she replied. Why didn't I?? Why was I driving myself crazy? I threw the book across the room (it felt great!) and haven't picked it up since except to put it in the recycling bin. It wasn't just that one, though. It seemed like every time I opened a book, I read about another "should." "Your baby should be reaching for objects and bringing them to her mouth by the end of this month." "You should be doing 20 minutes of tummy time a day with your infant." Neither my boys nor me were following any of these shoulds (2 minutes and 32 seconds of tummy time was about all the three of us could take some days) . . . and it made me feel like I was doing something wrong.
I'm not advocating burning books and burying your head in the sand, and I still consult my parenting tomes when one of my boys has a runny nose or if I'm curious when they might hit a certain milestone. (And, of course, at Babytalk magazine, we have a no-"shoulds" policy, so you won't get any such dictates here!) But reading too much advice was preventing me from following my own instincts. I initially bought the books and stacked them on my nightstand because I wanted to be a better mom -- and that's exactly why I stopped looking at them, too.
#3 Pick a new pediatrician (if you have to)
At my boys' first few pediatrician visits, my topsy-turvy postnatal hormones put me on the defensive. When the doctor would ask how breastfeeding was going, I would hear "Why aren't you nursing more?" If he asked if they were making eye contact yet, I heard "Are you sure you're spending enough quality time with them?" Of course, my pediatrician's questions were just benign requests for information, not guilt-inducing accusations, but that's not always the case. When my sister-in-law Robin's first son, Max, was a baby, she was worried about his development. He was behind on all of his milestones and didn't roll over until he was 8 months old. But beyond being late, she just had a feeling that something was wrong. Still, her pediatrician kept reassuring her that everything was normal, that Max was simply on the late end of the normal spectrum, and eventually grew frustrated at Robin's insistence that he be checked out further. "She made me feel like she knew my child better than I did, and that I was crazy for being so worried," remembers Robin. Finally, after a year of being refused referrals by this doctor, she sought out second opinions on her own. Soon afterward, Max was diagnosed with Mondini Syndrome, a disorder that causes hearing loss and balance issues, and was able to begin therapy that caught him up with his peers. Now 8, he wears a rainbow-colored hearing aid and is obsessed with Wii.
If you have an unsupportive doctor who ignores your instincts as a mother and/or gives you guilt trips about your parenting decisions, dump her! That's what Robin did, with an emotional letter explaining how let down she felt. Don't worry about being rude and don't accept the doctor as the end-all, be-all expert on your child's health. You're the expert, Mama.
#4 Compare selectively.
It's true, you shouldn't compare your baby to other kids his same age. And it's not like you haven't heard why before: Every parent is different, every child is unique. But that's hard to remember when your mommy-group friend's baby is crawling, waving bye-bye, and blowing adorable kisses to strangers, while yours is just blowing raspberries, immobile. Through a parents-of-twins group in my neighborhood, I met Lise, another mom who had twin girls born the same day as my guys. "Oh, how cool!" I feigned when we made the discovery, knowing that the inevitable comparisons were sure to follow next. "How are your babies' naps?" she asked, and then told me that her girls' nap schedule was "thrown completely off" last week when her family went on vacation.
Ummm, naps? Schedules? My boys were about 3 months old and had no semblance of a schedule whatsoever, despite the fact that I desperately wanted one. How did she have her girls, Lily and Miri, taking three precise naps already? I went home that night after meeting her and tortured myself some more with my book (see "Stop reading!"). Phooey on her and her perfect little nappers.
These days, Lise and I are good friends and our kids are regular playmates. Even now, at 14 months, Lily and Miri are way ahead of Nate and Theo on almost every front. They've been walking since before their first birthday, while my guys are still on their hands and knees. Her girls sign for when they want milk, mine cry and pull my hair. When other members of our twin group learn that the four of them were born on the same day, they can't hide their astonishment. But it doesn't bother me too much anymore. I've come up with dozens of ways to rationalize the developmental differences: Girls are ahead of boys in general; my guys were born five weeks premature, hers were full-term; my boys have more mellow temperaments; my guys are such great crawlers they see no need to walk; and so on. There's no real truth to any of them (except for the fact that my boys' adjusted age would be more than a month younger than her girls; I can hang my hat on that one. It's just too bad her girls are more than two months ahead in terms of milestones!) The point is, I have chosen to consider any comparison between our twins inconsequential.
But that doesn't mean I've quit comparing cold turkey. In the park one day, an adorable 20-month-old little boy ran up to my stroller offering Nate and Theo a banana. "Nana," both of my boys chanted eagerly, their word for the fruit. Though the little boy had plenty of words -- his name, "stroller," "shoe," and many others that Nate and Theo have never attempted to utter -- it turns out he didn't know the word for banana. Well, well, I thought. Nate and Theo, 1. Random and otherwise smart boy in the park, 0. As we moved on, I lavished my boys with praise on their on their "advanced" verbal skills (Nate has 5 words, Theo has?2). The message: Ignore what other people's kids are doing for the most part, but sometimes, if the comparison comes out in your favor, go ahead and feel smug!
Look at your babies. They're happy, right? They're growing well, right? Then stop worrying. You're doing a great job!
Patty Onderko is a Babytalk senior editor. She knows she was meant to be a mom.