I was scared of being left alone with my newborn twins—terrified, in fact. But in the first few weeks, it was easy to postpone the inevitable—I had a lot of backup. Immediately after they were born, they went straight to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They were tiny—Chloe was five pounds and Claire was four—and they had difficulty latching, so I needed help to breastfeed. My girls had two weeks of care under the watchful eyes of the NICU nurses and then four weeks with my in-laws in town. There was always an extra set of arms to hold or swaddle or change a diaper.
So the first time I was truly alone with my daughters, they were already six weeks old. That meant I had a lot of time to worry about what it would be like. I was petrified.
My husband had gone back to work, our family had left and it was just me and my babies. Claire was swaddled in the Pack ’n Play while Chloe was snug in the Rock ’n Play in our dining area. Both of them were sleeping peacefully, but I broke out into a cold sweat.
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I tiptoed around the house, desperate not to wake them. I grabbed two breastfeeding pillows and two burpcloths and placed the pillows side by side at the foot of my bed. I warmed Chloe’s pink bottle and Claire’s blue bottle full of formula in the bottle warmer, then carefully poured my pumped breastmilk into each bottle. I set up the bottles on my nightstand. “I got this,” I whispered to myself. And for a few minutes, I actually believed I did.
Chloe started crying first. Then her sister chimed in. I picked up Claire first, gripped onto the Rock ’n Play and pushed six-pound Chloe into the nursery. (I was too scared to hold both babies at once and, in my frazzled state, I thought this was my best solution.) Their shrieks grew louder by the second. I changed Claire’s diaper while Chloe’s wail from the Rock ’n Play grew even more desperate. I moved as quickly as I could, cursing my decision to use cloth diapers, which I was still learning how to fasten. As soon as Claire was done, I put Claire in her crib. I pulled Chloe out of the Rock ’n Play and into the crib and then changed Chloe’s diaper. By this point, both girls were screaming their heads off.
I was convinced that my neighbours would call the cops—it sounded like I was murdering two tiny infants. My heart was beating double time. I held Chloe while dragging the Rock ’n Play with five-pound Claire in it from the nursery into my bedroom. Like a desperate mantra, I kept repeating to myself, “You can do this. You can do this.”
I propped Chloe’s body against my twin breastfeeding pillow and draped a pink burpcloth under her chin. Her tiny face was red with anger. Both girls had had it with waiting; they were hangry.
I texted my husband, “The girls and I are losing it,” and sent a photo of Chloe with her mouth agape, eyes wide in mid-scream. “Hang in there,” he replied, but he wasn’t due home for hours. It was just me and my girls, and I had to figure how to do this on my own.
Claire’s piercing cries rattled my nerves as I moved her from the Rock ’n Play to a green Boppy pillow next to her sister. I worked as quickly as I could to end their crying, but each second ticked by slowly. I snatched up the bottles, plunked down between both of them and leaned forward with the bottles. They sucked on them hungrily. I glanced back and forth as if I were watching a vigorous tennis match, stopping to dab liquid from their mouths or prop them up as they slid off their pillows. My back hurt and my arms ached, but I didn’t care that my body was in pain. They were eating, and that’s all that mattered in those minutes.
Eventually, their cries subsided. We made it through. I held Claire close to me and patted her back to burp her while Chloe watched me wordlessly from her breastfeeding pillow. I kissed Claire’s cheek before putting her down and then cuddled and burped Chloe. They watched me with curiosity. “I love you both,” I said. This messy and mortifying feeding session gave me a glimpse of what my new life as a parent would be like: constantly fearful of screwing up but figuring it all out somehow.
It made me realize that if I could survive one feeding, I could do it again. My heart stopped hammering in my chest. In three hours, I’d repeat the cycle all over again with new bottles, but the next time, I’d have an ounce more courage.
Now, when I look at that picture of Chloe, instead of screaming, I see her cute, tiny body. Her bald little head. The strawberry onesie that she doesn’t fit into anymore. The peek of Claire’s leopard onesie in the Rock ’n Play in the corner. I see a moment that was scary but survivable. I see a mom who did the best she could and made it through. I got this, and so will you.