So, a few weeks back, I was visiting with a pretty good friend who asked how things were going with my new twins, Eli and Jack.
“They’re doing all right,” I said. “And we’re hanging in there. But we need more sleep.”
“Oh,” she said, casually waving her hand at me. “You’ll never sleep again.”
By my count, I’d heard this line a little more than three trillion times. Other variations include, “Ah, you won’t sleep for 18 years!” and “You’ll get used to it.”
So, like, two things.
First: Shut up.
Second: Really. Shut up.
The first five billion times someone thought this observation was funny enough to share, I smiled mildly and changed the subject. But now? “Really?” I pressed my friend, who is a parent herself, of beautiful kids, two and four years old. “What time do your kids go to bed?”
“Oh,” she replied, “we’d like to get them to bed at seven. But we usually don’t get them there till eight.”
“Really?” I replied. “Your kids go to bed at 8 p.m. and what time do they wake up?”
“They wake up in the middle of the night sometimes,” she said, turning defensive.
“Yeah, and then what happens?” I asked.
Over the next few minutes, I dragged the details out of her: About three times a week, her little nippers get out of bed in the middle of the night. They require, roughly, 15 minutes of tending to before everyone can go back to bed. Otherwise, they sleep from 8 p.m. till 6 or 7 a.m.
At her house, then, mom and dad often enjoy a wide window in which to obtain the Mayo Clinic’s recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. I’ve now led maybe a dozen parents of older children through a recitation of their family’s sleep habits. My friend’s experience seems pretty much the norm. By way of comparison, my wife and I feel fortunate if we harvest about five total hours of sleep from three separate shifts. We rarely obtain the two and a half to four hours of uninterrupted sleep that is crucial to feeling well rested.
No parent ever sleeps the same way they did B.C. (before children), whenever they want, for however long they want. And my, that does sound inconvenient. But sleeping for a total of three hours, over three shifts, is a surefire recipe for severe sleep deprivation—a condition linked to depression, muddled thinking, difficulty controlling your emotions, even low-level psychosis. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. But the CIA has never, to the best of my knowledge, forced a captive to submit by slipping a four-year-old into the cell for a glass of water and 10 minutes of snuggle time. So, here’s an idea for parents of older children: Shush.
Do not speak.
Clearly, parents often forget the pain of these early days. I’ve been told this happens, too—maybe seven zillion times. The first year is a blur. You won’t even remember it. ‘Cause—and this is the next sentence to stifle in your piehole—it goes so fast.
In response, let me provide my wife’s experience as an example. Her 24-hour day used to include 16 hours of activity and eight hours of snoozing. Now? She’s up and moving for roughly 20 hours. What this means is that, over the course of a week, she’s awake and active more than an extra day. Her seven-day week—is eight days long.
Does that sound like a week that just flies by?
Again, I beg of you, sssshhhhhhh!
I’ve had moms of eight-year-olds tell me that being a parent never gets any easier. “Every problem that goes away,” I’ve been told, “is just replaced by another equally hard problem.”
In retort, I propose a trade. I’ll come over every day after school and limit how long your eight-year-old plays video games. You come over and handle my twins’ midnight and 3:30 a.m. feedings. Sound good? I’d make that deal in a heartbeat and you wouldn’t so, um, here’s a question: Why are you still talking? Didn’t I already tell you, with a thinly concealed psychotic rage, to shut up?
The newborn period is simply the most difficult on a raw, neurological level, and it is that much harder for parents of twins.
A 2010 study authored by a researcher at the University of Birmingham found parents of multiples suffer higher rates of divorce and material hardship than parents of singletons. Another study, conducted at Johns Hopkins, found moms of twins were 43 percent more likely than moms of singletons to suffer moderate or severe postpartum depression.
So, when you ask me how it’s going, and you nod and tell me you understand, I know you mean well. Just realize: I also figure you probably don’t understand. At all. In fact, unless you’re showering my wife and I with sympathy, compliments and assurances that it does get easier, you should probably just keep mum. Be quiet. Shaddup.
It’s math. If you’re a new parent, with an involved partner, raising one newborn, you have a decided advantage:
Two Parents vs. One Baby = parents win.
You can wake up on Saturday and trade off childcare. Dad can handle the newborn from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.! Then he can visit the gym, run a few errands and spend the night cooing over little junior. But if these same people were raising twins, the teams would be even.
Two Parents vs. Two Babies = hopeless deadlock.
At the stage we’re in, after 13 weeks, the babies are still too weak to breastfeed in tandem. Their behavior and sleep patterns are so unpredictable there is no trading off childcare. Instead of going for a run, doing a little shopping or even walking around the block, we engage in crying jags, recriminations, groans of despair, and an occasional hour spent madly scrambling to cook, wash dishes, shop (online), do the laundry and did I mention cry, while the babies hold us hostage to their unending needs and perversely cute faces.
The conclusion, from my admittedly warped perspective (remember, I’m psychotic), is that if you’re raising one baby, and you have a live-in spouse or partner, you are barely a parent. Sure, technically, you’ve got a kid. But with two newborns to care for, I don’t have time for technicalities.
You’re insulted. And I get it: Having even one meager child radically alters a man or woman’s identity. That paltry little singleton baby is a great source of pride. One tiny child, just one, wailed in the night and you were forever changed. Hey, you have every right to be proud. By my math, in fact, you should be about half as proud as a parent of twins.
I’ve only got 90 minutes or so to squeeze in some sleep.
(Editor’s note: Our writer typed this out while suffering what he terms a “low-level psychosis.” He hopes you’ll forgive him.)