When I was midway through my pregnancy, I ran into an old acquaintance in a baby care class we were both taking. We soon discovered we were both expecting twins! "Katie" was a few months behind me and I marveled at her tiny belly. My belly was already huge.
My boys were due at the very end of November but arrived just before Halloween. Katie's twins were due in December but arrived before mine did, in September. My boys were born at a good weight and after a brief stint in the NICU by one boy, we soon took home our two babies and got down to the task of parenting newborns. Meanwhile, Katie's twins spent a harrowing first few months in the NICU, trying to survive. (Note: As Katie was more of an acquaintance at the time, I hadn't been aware of the details of her situation until well after her twins were out of the NICU.)
A few months later, I joined a Gemini Crickets playgroup.
The children in my playgroup hit milestones at different times but all within the range of typical development. We playgroup moms watched in awe as our babies blossomed into toddlers and then into preschoolers. We shared in the joy and misery of being outnumbered by our children. We grumbled through the lows and celebrated the highs. Playgroup was a good place to be.
Katie eventually joined the multiples club and even managed to make it to a couple of my playgroup get togethers.
Katie's twins suffered significant delays due to their prematurity and as if that weren't enough, one of her twins had been diagnosed in utero with a moderate to severe congenital disorder. It was only after many months of continued hospital visits and therapy sessions and much support from her family that Katie was able to get out and about with her twins.
Talk amongst the playgroup moms often turned to the challenges of raising twins. We acknowledged how difficult it was to chase two kids at the park. We talked about the shock of discovering that some of our twins had learned how to catapult themselves out of their cribs at night. We enrolled our toddlers in classes like My Gym and wore ourselves out trying to keep up with our climbing, running and jumping kids. Normal things.
Katie laughed along with us. She was nice and sweet as pie and then one day, Katie stopped coming. When the year was up, she did not renew her membership in our multiples club. But she and I kept in touch through other avenues.
I asked Katie why she stopped coming. How could she not enjoy all of this support? After all, during those first two years, the multiples club had been my lifeline.
But Katie didn't see it that way. I didn't feel like I had twins, she said.
When she said that, my mind raced back through all the times I'd reaped the benefits of having twins. Sure, having two kids of the same age was daunting initially, but eventually, some things got easier because I had twins. My boys went to the same preschool. They ate the same food. They shared a bath. They climbed up the same play structure. They played with the same toys.
It wasn't like that for Katie. Like any mom of twins, Katie had the challenges of raising twins, but because her twins were delayed, and one had special needs, she didn't really get to reap many of the benefits of having twins.
When I showed up at preschool with my twins, Katie showed up with only one of her twins, the "typically" developing one.
When I fed my kids snacks at the park, my kids would do a drive by and get their snacks on the go; Katie got to do that, sort of, but with only one of her kids; the other, she fed via G-tube.
When my boys were literally running circles around me, one of Katie's twins was not yet walking.
When I grappled with kindergarten readiness and whether to send my boys at age 4 or age 6 and whether to keep them together in the same class, Katie listened patiently and told me that my boys would do fine either way. Katie's issues were different than mine; her twins might not ever be enrolled together at the same school, at any age.
On the day she told me it didn't feel like she had twins, I just wanted to kick my self absorbed self in the butt and force my eyes to see things in perspective. Oh, boy, I thought, time for a curtain call on the All About Me show. My issues, however real and looming they may have seemed to me at the time, were but good problems in the eyes of someone like Katie.
I never saw Katie complain. I think she was genuinely happy for whatever was happening in the lives of her twin mom friends but she probably questioned her presence in a multiples club when it didn't always feel as if she had twins. While Katie would never renounce us our "normal" lives, she didn't relate to our twin specific world.
So she left and busied herself with her unique set of parenting challenges.
I feel as if we did not do enough to support Katie during those early years. I did not do enough to support Katie. Yet she was there to support me. I feel like such a clod. Fortunately, I believe Katie and her children are doing well today and start kindergarten (in separate schools) in the fall. I know full well how far she's come to finally have a bit of normalcy in her life.
What should a twins/multiples club do to support families like Katie's? It's not uncommon for a multiple birth pregnancy to result in premature birth and its associated complications. Surely, there are more families with special needs multiples in our club than we realize.
At a minimum, how can a multiples club help a family of special needs multiples during those early years?
Some examples might be:
- Identify mentor families within the club
- Set up a playgroup of special needs families
- Create a list of members who can help with meals when the family is in a pinch
- Organize play dates at wheelchair accessible parks although there don't seem to be many such parks in Silicon Valley
- Assist the family in finding resources appropriate to their child's needs (programs, books, etc.)
- Ask these families how the club can help
Original post to Mad About Multiples.