When Gaby Wilday settled in for an ultrasound at her doctor's office early on in her second pregnancy, she and her husband, Jim, were looking forward to good news. What they got was more than they expected. Way more.
"There they were, on the screen, two little bubbles," she says. "We were not only having our second child, we were also having our third!" When twins Benjamin and Lucia were born they joined 2-year-old big sister Amelie, and life became both joyous and hectic for this Ridgewood family. "At first it was hard," says Gaby Wilday. "There were times when I thought to myself, 'How am I going to make it through this?' But you do, you absolutely do. And, two years later, we still feel so blessed."
The Wildays are certainly not alone. Walk through the mall, have dinner in a family restaurant, or check any elementary school yearbook and see that twins and triplets are becoming more and more common. According to a report from the State of New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, multiples account for about 5 percent of all births in Bergen. That's a lot of babies. (201) Health talked to some of those multiple families and asked for the rundown on life in Bergen with two (or more) little ones.
Between late-night feedings, the logistics of transporting two, sometimes three babies at once, and the general lack of sleep all around, ask parents of multiples what those first few weeks and months are like and many will tell you it was "a blur." Triplet mom Nancy Bach of Fair Lawn uses those words to describe life with her boys when they were babies.
"There is no manual when you bring them home," says Bach. "I remember when we first got home wondering if I was doing anything right. But you just jump right in and hope that you are."
Wyckoff resident Mary O'Brien's first set of twins were 3 when she had her second set. "It was crazy. I remember one day my husband took the older ones out so I could stay home with the babies and get stuff done. He left me on the couch nursing them, and when he got back six hours later I was still there -- in the same spot. I hadn't moved."
A common challenge in raising twins is the need to give them a sense of individuality, says Joseph Holahan, M.D., medical director of the Child Development Center at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.
"With siblings, in general, one of the issues many families face is sibling rivalry. With twins, it's almost the opposite," says Dr. Holahan. "There is much more of a concern for parents to encourage individuality and not to view them as a set but as two individual people." His advice: "From very early on, encourage family and friends to speak to them by their names not as 'the twins,' and when opportunity presents itself, do different things with them."
Holahan, who has an identical twin brother and has twins himself, speaks from experience. "Growing up, my brother and I were referred to as 'twin' by our friends and family for many, many years, and, with our kids, we made it a point to never do that. We treated them as individuals from the start."
Sometimes it can be difficult to treat them as individuals when they look exactly alike. Annamarie Marino's second set of twins were identical boys. "They looked so much alike that, for the first two years, I had to paint one toenail red so we could tell them apart." And, at age 4, she says, they still look a lot alike. "Their teachers can't tell them apart, sometimes their grandparents have trouble telling them apart," says the Wyckoff mom. "I still have trouble identifying them in pictures." And, though she enjoyed dressing her twin girls the same, not this time. "I always dress the boys differently. Maybe it's because they're identical, I want them to be different in some way."
Sixteen years ago, before their triplet daughters were even born, Lindsey and Rich Barclay of Ridgewood had a lot of interesting reactions from friends and strangers alike.
"People would say, 'I don't know how you're going to do it, I only have one baby and I can't believe how hard it is,'" says Lindsey Barclay. Fast-forward to the teen years and she's hearing very similar sentiments. "They now say, 'I don't know how you are going to survive with three teenage girls, I have one and it's tough!'" But "so far so good" reports Barclay on the teen years. "They are so different, in personality, height, weight, hair color, style of clothes, interests and sports, and, because of that, they are treated as individuals. Everyone is good at something and they just needed to shine on their own."
Spending time with each child, when both want equal time with each parent, can be an emotional drain. Stephanie Pratt Mitra of Dumont, mom to 2-year-old twin boys, says, "Dedicating equal time to both boys has been a challenge, but over time I have found that, generally, each craves my attention at different times of the day."
But don't watch the clock and worry about dividing your time with them equally, says Wilbert Yeung, M.D., a child psychiatrist at Hackensack University Medical Center, and a father of twin baby girls. "Instead of saying, 'I'm going to spend exactly half an hour with one child, then half an hour with the other, be respectful of what each child needs. Try to think less about a formal schedule and more about integrating it into the natural flow of things, to try to create an individual experience for each child, because what works for one may not work for the other."
And, if you have another child at home, Holahan offers practical advice, "Sometimes there is a tendency to choose the birth of the babies as the time to put an older child in day care or preschool, but it probably shouldn't be done right then. It would be wiser, with such big changes occurring in the household, and in the child's life, to do that either before the babies are born or after the older sibling has had time to acclimate to the new surrounds. There is more of a risk of engendering some resentment if the big changes happen right at the time the new babies come into the house." Wilday remembers with regret how much was expected of her 2-year-old daughter when the twins were born. "We look back on the videos at the hospital after the twins were born and Amelie was just a baby, she had just turned 2. But I had her out of the crib and in a big-girl bed because she couldn't be the baby anymore."
Live and Learn
With double strollers and two or three car seats to maneuver, it's not easy to just jump in the car to run errands, visit a friend, or go to the park. "I typically won't go to someone's house with all three kids unless I've been there before, because it's just too hard," says Wilday. "Walk into my house and it's truly a 'gated community.' I have gates everywhere." And when they were younger, outings with two babies and a toddler proved difficult. "I don't know what I was thinking, but one day, the kids and I went to A&P without snacks."
By the time they got to the checkout counter, she recalls, strangers were packing her groceries. "All three were screaming. When we got to the car, Amelie, who was in the midst of potty training, had an accident. I then realized that the car keys were buried in one of the bags of groceries." With everyone in the parking lot staring, Wilday put on the appearance of a cool and calm mom. "I even broke open a sleeve of Ritz crackers and handed them out." When she finally found the keys and got in the car, "I rolled up the windows and lost it." Lesson learned. Now, she never leaves home without snacks. "I often have enough for a whole class of kids in case someone else forgets," she adds.
And, like most multiple moms, Wilday picks and chooses playgrounds very carefully. "If we're going to a park, it has to be fenced in," she says. She likes the playground in Glen Rock, and her family often goes to the town fields across from Ramapo College in Mahwah, which has a running track and is fenced in. "We run around the track with them a few times, watch kids play soccer, then go to the playground. It's a fabulous park," says Wilday. When her children were younger, Marino took her twins to Finch Park in Ramsey, the Pulis Avenue playground in Franklin Lakes, and the Wyckoff playground.
"When you're chasing around more than one child, fences are a must," says Marino.
But as hard as it can be, no one would give up a moment of the crazy ride they encounter raising multiples. "Laugh a lot. If it was not for having a sense of humor, I think raising multiples would have been a lot harder," says twin mom Cricket O'Neil of Harrington Park.
When you have twins, they inevitably attract a certain amount of attention. But what happens when you have a second set of twins? Marino, mother of Kate and Sarah, age 7, and Patrick and Nicholas, age 4, and O'Brien, mother of Jake and Gracie, age 7, and Sean and Luke, age 3, both live in Wyckoff and became friends.
"People would come up to me and say, 'Did you know there's another family with two sets of twins in town?'" recalls O'Brien.
They finally met and are now good friends; their kids even went to a preschool Sunday school together at Church of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary in Wyckoff. "When we get together, it's crazy," says O'Brien. "But the kids get along really well and look out for each other."
Join the Club
"I sought out a twins club as soon as I found out I was pregnant with twins. Since then, I've never really felt alone in my day-to-day struggles, especially when my kids were little and I became overwhelmed on a daily basis," says Pixie Pierce, Teaneck mom to 4-year-old twins and a 6-year-old. The Twins' Mother's Club of Bergen County meets once a month at The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood. Programs in the club, which also welcomes triplet moms, include a new member's coffee-and-chat group, online forums, big sister-little sister support, playgroup opportunities and family events throughout the year. For more information, call (201) 669-8251.