Parenting

Jessi Cruickshank on raising twins, potty-training two toddlers at once—and whether she wants a third

The host of "New Mom, Who Dis?" on what it's like to tandem breastfeed, how to potty-train two toddlers at once, and how many strollers you really need.

From the moment you find out there are two heartbeats on an ultrasound, expecting and raising twins is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, ranging from pure panic to overwhelming joy. There are plenty of practical questions and logistics to manage, too. (Will you make it to 40 weeks? What type of gear do you really need? Will you ever sleep again?) Back in early March (which truly feels like a lifetime ago now), we spoke to our May/June 2020 issue cover girl, Jessi Cruickshank, host of the Facebook Live show New Mom, Who Dis?, to get the scoop on what being a twin parent is really like. Her identical boys, Rio and Dray, are two and a half, so she’s right in the thick of the chaos.

Are you finding the toddler stage easier than having two newborns?

You know, I thought having two newborns was tough. But now here I am with two two-year-olds, and I’m thinking this is even tougher! I guess every stage is challenging. When the boys were babies, everybody said to us, “It gets better.” I always hated that. I mean, I know that I have spit-up on my shirt, and I haven’t slept in weeks, but it’s still pretty great. But now I understand what they meant, in hindsight. It gets easier and you get better as a parent, and you become a little more relaxed—less paranoid, at least, and you’re able to enjoy it a little more. Like, I can have a conversation with my sons now. It’s pretty unbelievable. They’re learning and they’re so curious. Today I had to get up super early and do my makeup for our live show, and all of a sudden Dray decides to take a real interest in my makeup, like this is the most interesting thing he’s ever seen. He’s sitting by the bathroom sink with me, talking with me the whole way through as I put on my entire face. He’s like, “What’s that, Mommy?” as I glue a false eyelash to my eye, which is a very, very relevant question. It’s just really cool.

And the other thing is, they’re so warm and loving. So far 2020 has just been a shitty year, man—it’s been a rough, rough start, and any time I feel down, they just give me the best hugs. I’m bracing myself for the moment when they start to tell me, “I don’t love you, Mommy,” but right now I’m just loving every second.

What was it like being on set for this photo shoot?

Oh, the shoot was chaos. My boys have been on camera with me since they were very young, and I think they’ve just reached a point where they’re like, “No thanks. We have better things to do.” They were very challenging, and I was joking that it was “Today’s Worst Parent” because I was bribing them with lollipops and promising to let them watch a video, just breaking all of my mom rules to get the photos.

How is the potty-training-two-toddlers thing going?

The struggle is real. I think we just went into the potty-training thing without thinking beyond the three-day-weekend method. We saw it as a pure scheduling thing, but then I realized, “Oh my god, we have a Today’s Parent shoot on Thursday!” And they’re still having accidents. They’re still figuring it out. So during the shoot, we still had a potty, like, five feet away off-camera, and they’re wearing all these gorgeous clothes that people have lent to us. I was trying to smile and look pretty while being terrified that my kids were gonna pee in the very clean and gorgeous new baby clothes. I was like, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

Any advice for parents about to potty train?

I will say they will do anything for one chocolate chip—literally one chocolate chip. It’s actually been a little too effective. There are moments when they’re mid-pee, and they’ll walk away, saying, “I need a chocolate chip!” Meanwhile, I’ll take a handful and hide in the corner and just eat my feelings with their prize chocolate. We also have a potty that we put on a garbage bag in the trunk of the car. We went on a family hike [before the stay-home order], which was literally 15 minutes long, but I mean, what an achievement. When we got there, we pulled up and we made them both sit on the potty in the back of the trunk, and all these hikers are walking by and I’m like, “Don’t mind us; we’re just peeing in the trunk!”

I’ve also realized that potty training doesn’t make everything easier—it actually makes things way harder. You have to keep a travel potty in the back of the car and extra pants in every bag—it’s way harder than just bringing a couple extra diapers.

I’m sure you get this question all the time, but what’s your best piece of advice for someone who just found out they’re pregnant with twins?

Nobody ever asks me that! The number one question I get asked is, “Did you conceive them naturally?” Which is just… I understand people are curious, but geez. And yes, we’ve always answered. Identical twins are sort of a freak of nature: The egg just splits in two. When I found out I was pregnant with twins, it was the most shocking moment of my life.

Twins don’t run in your family?

I have no knowledge of any twins in my family—so we hadn’t even thought of it as a possibility. I was shooting in Toronto, my husband was working in LA, and I thought I was just going to have one little baby and throw it in my handbag and have this accessory that I would travel back and forth with. We had never ever thought about twins, so I was just trying to hold back tears in the doctor’s office.

But now, two and a half years into it, I would say that, instead of thinking about all the unknowns and all of the work, and all of the fear around how this is going to change your life—and trust me, it will change your life in a major way; there’s no denying that—think about how special it is. Because I didn’t really truly appreciate it until I was holding these two little three- and four-pound babies—I’m crying already!—in my arms. I didn’t realize how truly special twins are. It’s such a gift. And it’s special not just for you, as a parent, but it’s special for them. It’s a bond and relationship that nobody else can understand. Be excited about how special it is.

Photo: Annie McElwain, Styling: Lisa Williams, Hair + Makeup: Tami El Sombati, Art Direction: Emily Vezér

What are the other unexpected advantages or happy surprises when you have twins?

There are actually lots of sneaky benefits. We had a much easier time with sleep training, I believe, because you don’t have the same kind of guilt. If they’re crying, they always have somebody else in the room—they always have each other. When my guys get up, they talk and sing to each other, they throw their stuffed animals back and forth—they entertain each other. Over the holidays, I heard them having a long conversation in their cribs about whether Frosty had a carrot nose or a button nose.

That might be the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.

It was a really hot debate. Very, very heated. But yes—they get to practise certain skills that a lot of singleton babies don’t. I also love watching them hug each other. They hold hands unprompted. The other day I heard Dray tell Rio, “I love you.” I mean, like, I want to melt—it’s just so, so sweet. Especially with identical twins, there will be challenges as they grow up, as they have to establish their own identities, but I think it’s just incredible to watch this unique bond that they have.

Did they share a crib as babies?

For the first three months, we did the same crib, same room. I was secretly hoping that they would just naturally spoon, but they pretty much stayed a solid foot apart every night. They were so tiny when they were born. We could have fit like three more babies in there if we had to.

Is it common for twin parents in LA—and for celebrity parents in general—to hire night nurses?

I mean, here in LA, there are many levels of what, exactly, is possible… You can even hire a wet nurse to actually breastfeed your babies for you. And no judgment on anybody—it’s whatever works for you. I will say that we did try to do it all ourselves, and it was a very valiant effort. Our boys came home from intensive care when they were three and four pounds, just tiny little guys who needed to be fed every three hours, and they had reflux. So we were up for one hour trying to feed and change and get one down, and then up for a second hour feeding and changing and getting the second one down. Then, if we were lucky, we’d get an hour to sleep before we started the cycle all over again. So I think we lasted, like, six or seven days before we realized that we needed help—we just couldn’t do it.

The first person we interviewed had been a nanny for a very high-profile celebrity for five years. She came over to our one-bedroom apartment and sat in the living room, and she asked us where the nursery was. And we said, “You’re sitting in it. This is it.”

Ha. Did you ever find someone to help you guys?

Yes, we had a night nurse come two or three days a week for the first two months. I was still getting up and feeding and pumping, but she would help with everything else. And we were sleeping, and we were human again, and we could enjoy our children a little bit. I felt a lot of guilt about it—spending the money and not having that special time with my kids. But eventually I realized that the time with my kids meant nothing if I was just completely destroyed.

Did you eventually get them on the same feeding and sleeping schedule? I’ve heard that’s very important with twins.

Yes, everybody in our twin groups said that if you don’t get them on the same schedule, you are in trouble. So we just trained them like robots from whenever they were strong enough to start sleeping longer stretches. I never thought I would be “that mom”—I always looked at my friends who would bring their kids out past midnight and I was like, “I’m going to be the cool, relaxed mom.” Cut to now—if it’s 12 or 1 p.m. and my children aren’t down for their nap, I am starting to freak out and panic. We’re very rigid about the nap schedule. And as a result, our guys do three-hour naps and they sleep through the night. They’re really good sleepers and they’re very much in sync. We just trained them out of fear.

How did breastfeeding go?

I imagined I would be nursing them in my arms with a beautiful floral nightgown on—creating that closeness and this peaceful, beautiful bond. But that just didn’t happen for us. We were in survival mode: I was a milkmaid pumping every three hours, then they were eating every three hours. Even just nursing with a baby across my body—I could never do that breastfeeding position because I always had one on one side, one on the other, like two little footballs. I’m proud of how we were able to handle those first formative months of their lives, but at the same time, I do feel like I missed out on that particular postpartum experience.

Im a little envious of my friends who were able to just feed their baby when they were hungry, and to have that connection. I did get to a place where I was tandem breastfeeding every morning and every night after I got home, and that was awesome. There is no greater feeling than getting two babies latched and suckling at the same time. Even if you can only do it once with twins, it’s just the coolest thing ever.

Do you ever think about having a third, for the chance of having a singleton?

That’s maybe the question we get asked the most now. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine having three kids. I feel like with two parents and two kids, you’re still a human. Three kids—you’re a mom. That’s my impression. But a part of me thinks, well, what would another face look like? Because with identical twins, I mean, they have the same face! What would a girl be like? And what would it be like to have just one baby? But then there’s the other part of me that says, if you got pregnant again, you would probably have another set of twins. Like it’s just the universe’s way of messing with me. So it’s a hot topic, if you will. We’re still talking about it. I would love to have a girl—I’ll just say that. I’d love to be able to raise a strong, smart, powerful, independent girl.

Is self-care or “me time” even a thing if you’re a twin mom? Pipe dream?

I admit that I am not good at self-care yet. I hope to get there eventually. I still feel guilty about going to get a massage or saying I’m going to go work out. When I’m not working, the only thing that I want to do is be with my kids. My husband is like, “I’m gonna go play a round of golf.” I’m like, “What’s that like?” But the healthier you are, the more fulfilled you are in your career and in your life as an individual, the better parent you’re going to be. And you’re going to bring that fulfillment and that happiness to your role as a mom to your kids.

Do you get help with the boys from family members?

No, my family is in Vancouver, which is where I’m from, so that’s been challenging. I never thought I would want my mother to move in with me, but now that’s my greatest dream. She could sleep in the same bed as us I for all I care! Having that extra set of hands, and that loving person in their lives who could help us, would be incredible.

Let’s move on to gear. Any double stroller recommendations?

The Bugaboo Donkey was a lifesaver. I remember when I first looked at it, I was like, What am I going to do, mortgage the house to buy a double stroller? But it’s worth it, and you can find them on Craigslist. It’s like driving an all-terrain SUV. We had the Donkey in a snowstorm in Toronto and we were just cruising over piles of snow. But I also needed a travel stroller that I could fold up and take on the plane or throw in the back of the car and take to the library. Even though my guys can walk now, I cannot wrangle two little boys in a parking lot or down the street. So I always have a travel stroller that I can strap them into. We have the Mountain Buggy Nano and I’m obsessed—it’s super light and durable.

When did you go back to work?

I went back to work when they were eight weeks old, so that I could do my daytime show in Toronto, which is still one of the most insane decisions. I don’t know what I was thinking. The night before going back, I was, like, bleeding, leaking milk, pumping at 3 a.m., and I couldn’t fit any of the clothes they had brought me for the show. I was like, What am I doing? My body just wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t do that again.

Are moms more chill in LA or in Toronto? 

Oh, Toronto. I will never forget the first time we took them out to a coffee shop, and two other moms walked immediately up to us, asked us if we were new to the neighbourhood, introduced themselves, gave me their phone numbers and told me about all these different classes and playgroups. I started to cry right there in the coffee shop because I was just so moved by their kindness (and, well, postpartum hormones). I think that with Canadian moms in general, there’s a real community, there’s an “it takes a village to raise a child” aspect that is so beautiful. In LA, it’s more of an “every man for themselves” kind of thing. And everyone drives everywhere, so it’s more spread out and a more isolated experience. Fortunately, I’ve made an incredible group of friends in LA, but it’s, like, 99 percent Canadian—I don’t know what it is. We all really gravitate toward each other.

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Kim Shiffman, Editor-in-Chief, Today’s Parent