Surviving the Twin Postpartum Vortex
I recently consulted with two mothers of twins who were seeking to understand why they have felt persistent guilt since giving birth a few years ago. In both cases, the twin pregnancy was spontaneous and natural with no fertility issues. Initially, neither mom relished the idea of having twins. Both felt robbed of the traditional rituals and experiences that normally accompany the birth of a singleton. One mom was enormously disappointed that her longing for a vaginal birth was frustrated when the obstetrician informed her that a Cesarean section was imperative given the position of both babies. Moreover, after the babies were born at thirty-seven weeks, she was not emotionally prepared for their week-long stay in the NICU.
As we discussed these experiences, we realized that her gnawing feelings of self-condemnation and inadequacy stemmed from her inability to give herself permission to feel anger and disappointment about how the twin birth upended her romantic expectations about motherhood. She had no one with whom she could share these expectable ambivalent feelings.
Sadly, many moms of twins lack confidants who can empathize with their situation while understanding that their conflicted feelings have nothing to do with not loving or wanting their children. Mothers of twins need reassurance that any negative emotions associated with adjusting to motherhood do not diminish their love and concern for their babies.
Another mom spoke to me about feeling depressed and disconnected since giving birth. She shared a harrowing story about having to spend months on bed rest in the hospital until she gave birth to her healthy twins. She was told that she must stay positive during the hospital stay because becoming upset might induce contractions. She never had the opportunity to process the emotional impact of this experience. I explained that if feelings from past traumatic experiences are not revisited, we often dissociate from them instead. In other words, we push aside or “forget” threatening thoughts because they feel enormously uncomfortable. However, the price we pay for protecting ourselves this way is a self-destructive, depressive mindset that prevents us from feeling connected and capable. In many cases, excessive guilt covers up feelings of resentment and sadness.
Moms of multiples need and deserve a safe haven to express the trials and tribulations of raising infant twins. Feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, frightened, and anxious is the norm for many new parents of twins. A sense of mastery and resilience will emerge over time, and the parents will gain ample emotional space to relish the love and joy they experience with both babies.
Image courtesy of Donnie Ray Jones (CC BY 2.0)
Agree that we are so often disappointed by what we hoped it would be like and we are constantly reminded of this dissonance when other people make comments about how cute our twins are and what a joy they are and have no idea of the reality we face. And so we smile without complaining and bury our feelings even further because we don’t want to be seen as unloving, ungrateful, or lacking in motherly care. I am thankful that I had a twins group where I could share these feelings openly.
This resonated with me very much. I was put on bed rest in the hospital at 20 weeks. Still my ID boys arrived early due to a placental rupture at 24 weeks, 6 days. I had complications that kept in the hospital for a month. My boys were in the NICU for 5 months. The guilt, the stress and sadness of the imagined pregnancy that didn’t happen is still with me – and my boys are now 7 years old.