Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What it's really like to have infant twins: Older siblings.

Before the twins were born, I worried too much about how Norah would do and how this big transition would affect her. I worried that she would struggle with not having our undivided attention, with us being away in the hospital, with reacting to her new siblings in negative ways, etc. Everyone always says that you heart will just grow to love the new baby, or babies in our case, but HOW would that work? No one had a good answer. They all said it just would.

They were right. It's unexplainable and there's really no way to answer that worry with anything other than to just wait until the baby is born. God just does a miracle in the parent's hearts and they expand even more and you love all your kids.

Before the twins arrived, we tried to do lots of fun things with Norah to live up our last days as a family of three. Not that it wouldn't be fun once twins arrived, but we knew it would be different. Overall, Norah has handled the transition very well. That doesn't mean that there were rough patches or hard times, but we had rough patches and tough times too, so how could we expect a two year old to handle it well all the time?

For us, the beginning was the hardest, and again later for a couple weeks when the twins were about 5-6 weeks old. It was hard because we were in the NICU for 10 days, so we were apart from Norah. She was able to come to visit a few different times, and we got to sneak away with just her to a park and to swim in our hotel pool, but she wasn't allowed in the NICU so she couldn't meet the girls until they came home. For the first few days, she stayed with Kley's parents, who live where we live, so we saw her every day for the first few days. It was so nice to see her, but so hard too because she didn't understand what was happening really and why we couldn't come home with her or why she couldn't stay with us. Every night when we had to say goodbye, it was really hard for all of us. The last few days, she went to stay with my parents in Des Moines, which was really good for her to have attention focused on her and to not have to go back and forth from the hospital everyday. Norah hates to say goodbye, even to this day, so it was hard to repeatedly have to do that. We are so thankful our NICU stay was only 10 days- it felt like forever at the time, but there were many people there who were there longer than we were. Being reunited when we got home and introducing Norah to the girls is one of my favorite moments ever.

So, when the twins were born was the hardest for all of us emotionally, but later on was the hardest behaviorally. We had a couple weeks that were really hard with Norah- times where we asked each other where our sweet girl went and said that she was even harder than the twins. There were lots of battles, screaming fits, potty accidents, problems going to bed, night waking, getting out of bed, etc. I don't want to go into all the specific details, because that's personal to Norah and I don't want to spill her hardships in detail, but it was tough. I think this time was the hardest because the initial feelings of bringing them home were wearing off and she was realizing that they weren't leaving and this was her new life.

I'm very thankful that none of these issues were ever directed towards Lucy and Ellory. She has loved them from the start, and all of her hardships/anger were directed at Kley and I. Each kid is different, but that's just how she was and I'm glad she was mad at me and not them. Obviously, she did get much better with time, which is much easier to say after the fact, because during the battle it feels like this might last forever.

Here are some tips I would give for how to help older siblings through the transition:

1. Try to prep them with what's to come as best you can. Since our twins came earlier than expected (you can read their birth story here), I didn't get a chance to prepare Norah like I wanted to. Since births never quite go how you expect, you obviously can't prepare them for everything, but I wish I would have had the chance to talk with her more about me being in the hospital, how sore I would be after, her staying with grandparents, etc.

2. Have something fun for them. We gave Norah a "big sister gift" when she came to the hospital for the first time, and had a few fun small things to keep her occupied. Since the new baby usually gets gifts, it was fun for Norah to have something new too.

3. Do something one on one with older siblings, whenever you can squeeze it in, even if it's small or short. That was so nice for Norah to let her know that we still loved her and to be able to do something normal and/or special with her.

4. Find something for the baby they can do. There are so many things they can't do that it's easy to just tell them no or to not do this or that, so it's nice to find things they can do so they can help and so you can speak positively. Maybe they can get them a new diaper or burp rag, shake their rattle, etc. Even just phrasing things in a positive way (like "Use nice gentle touches!" vs. "Don't touch them so hard!") made me feel like she was included more and a helpful part of the equation.

5. I think this one is maybe the most important, but just give them space to be uncomfortable in the unknown. Adding a new family member is hard on everyone. All those things you are feeling about a big transition and finding a new normal- they are feeling them too, and they have even less words and emotional maturity to express how they are feeling in positive ways. Not that it's okay to lash out in anger, but it is okay to be upset because transitions are hard. There were times where we would try to fix her problem or ask her what was wrong, but you can't fix it and she couldn't even articulate her feelings, but just needed space to feel and needed us to be there to be consistent and love on her.

I never liked it when people would tell me it would get easier when we were in the thick of it, because even though you know it logically will, you don't know when or how and that's hard. At the time, I just wanted someone to acknowledge how hard it was instead of saying it will get better. It is hard. Super hard sometimes. But it will get better. It will, and I'm very thankful for the perspective and hindsight to say that now. It may be slow, but the new normal and routine will come. Try to take it one day at a time, and finally one day you will think that this day isn't as hard as it used to be. I'm so thankful for where we are now. It's still a lot, but a different sort than the beginning. It feels more normal now, verses a transition, and we are all thankful for that! Norah is such an incredible sister and it's so sweet to watch her with them. She loves to hold them, give them toys, try to make them laugh, etc. She still has moments (like any two year old), but overall, she is such a joy and a very good listener. Norah, we are so glad Lucy and Ellory have such a special big sister like you!

Parents, keep up the good work! What a beautiful responsibility we've been given.


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