~ Bonding with Multiple Infants ~

Parents of multiples sometimes find bonding difficult when they have twins, triplets or higher order multiples. The amount of physical energy it takes to care for multiple infants can leave parents drained of emotional energy.

"Well [my twins] are 1 month and 3 days old and I am finding it hard to be "attached" to them. I love them alot, but sometimes I look at them and wonder where they came from.

"I guess it is just hitting me that I have these two babies, we are parents, they are ours, and there is no turning them back in. Amazing, after 3 years of infertility, a terrible bedrest pregnancy, both in Intensive Care... "

--twins-l member

Caring for multiples takes its toll

"Boy, can I relate!! My twins are my 3rd and 4th babies ... so I had experiences with attachment and bonding before. Having twins was a whole different ballgame. I think that the overwhelming care they require and the physical toll it takes on you makes it much harder to bond with them. Even now I find myself at times being robotic in my care of them, and certainly in the early months I could barely find the energy to smile at them let alone find moments to snuggle and coo and gaze at each of them.

For a very long time (even now sometimes) my husband and I would look at each other and wonder aloud "How did these babies get here" -- it's all very unreal for a while. If you had a difficult pregnancy and/or delivery and babies spent time in the NICU, that only compounds it all, I think. I don't think it has anything to do with how much the babies were awaited or how much they are loved now, it has to do with the toll it all takes on your emotional and physical selves.

"Others may not agree, but IMHO bonding is a process not a moment. "

Bonding doesn't have to be instantaneous

"I think what you're feeling is perfectly normal. Some women form instant attachments, some women don't - but that does not mean that you do not love your children or that you are not a good mother. It just means it hasn't happened yet!

"For me - I also struggled with infertility for a number of years before being blessed with [my twins]. So - you'd think I would be overjoyed at their arrival. I was - and wasn't, to be perfectly honest. They were delivered at 35 weeks by emergency c-section. I was prepared for their arrival, but not as prepared as I thought. Almost 3 hours went by before I felt I could hold them, and almost 6 hours before I felt stable enough to nurse them. There were no tears of happiness, no instant bonding, I felt like a miserable failure and like a terrible mother for not feeling more "mother-like" - for lack of a better word.

"...don't let these feelings rule you. You're experiencing raging hormones from post-partum AND nursing! You're exhausted! You're a first-time mom who's expectations were perhaps a bit unrealistic, and therefore not met, but that's all. It took, I think, for me almost 4 months for any bonding to occur with my babies (and I was nursing as well - I didn't feel like I was bonding then either! I just felt like a cow!).

"The bonding will happen - usually when you least expect it, and not how you "think" it will feel...but you'll know! Right now, you're in survival-mode - and that's ok. You love your babies, and they most CERTAINLY feel that you love them. Those of us who've been there understand..."

Prematurity and other complications can interfere

"We didn't go through infertility, but aside from that, our experiences sound similar to yours. I had a difficult pregnancy (preterm labor, 5 weeks of bedrest and terbutaline), an emergency C-section, pre-eclampsia, and a 23-day stay in the hospital for our daughters, who were born at 33 weeks gestation. Right after delivery, I was diagnosed with a peripartum cardiomyopathy (the left ventricle of my heart was enlarged and not pumping efficiently). I didn't hold [one daughter] until two days after she was born. I didn't hold [the other daughter] until almost a day after she was born.

I had a lot of difficulty "bonding" with our daughters at first. I think it was a defense mechanism because so much had gone wrong and they were so tiny (3 lbs 8.5 ounces and 3 lbs 4 ounces). I was afraid to get too close until we were more sure that they would survive. My most prominent memory of our daughters' first 3 months of life was just feeling alternately overwhelmed and numb.

A researcher from the University of Wisconsin has done a study on the effects on parents of having a premature infant. He found signs of posttraumatic stress disorder among these parents. Here is a link to his web site. http://www.uwm.edu:80/People/hynan/ If you scroll down far enough you will find some transcripts of talks he has given and a summary of his study. I found his information to be quite reassuring."

~ When bonding more with one than the other ~

Moms may often feel guilty when they have to dedicate more time or attention to one infant than the other, especially in those early days. Perhaps the following experience from a mothers of twin infants will sound familiar...

"My head is feeling really scattered at the moment when I look at both babies at the same time. Its like my brain is trying to love them both simultaneously and it cant!!

"I find myself 'bonding' with [my son] more, because he is the fussiest and seems to be constantly in my arms, whereas [my daughter] will be content to wait for her brother to stop going on, before she complains.

"The result is that I see A LOT less of [her] than I do [him]. So of course that good old mummy guilt kicks in and I try to see them both as equally gorgeous, thus the scattered brain feeling!

"Am I making sense? Does anyone understand this problem?"

--twins-l member

Don't give up.

"I understand this problem ... but mine is the opposite. My daughter is always the fussy one, and since my son is the easy one I feel like I am bonding with him. It is like I try to find out what is wrong with my daughter, fix the problem, get her to calm down, and quickly get her to sleep as fast as I can so I can get a little rest. However, with my son, I'm much more at ease and I find myself playing with him. I always have a little bit of guilt each day, and I try really hard to bond with her the way I do with my son but she gets so frustrated so easily. She is much more active then him, so she tires a lot faster. She just never seems happy long enough in one spot, no matter if I am holding her or she is in her bouncy seat, car, or swing. Ugh... it is mind rattling! All I can say is... KEEP TRYING! I'm hoping she'll outgrow this fussy period once she learns to crawl. The good thing is in the beginning my daughter and I really bonded, so ... we'll hopefully keep that bond up even though she has to share equal time with her brother."

Bonding can be a different experience with each child.

"Yes, I had a similar sort of thing, though it was the fussier one I had trouble bonding with.

"Before the girls were born, I was told that they were probably identical. After hearing at 19 weeks that they had a large size discordance, which was still present for around 6 more weeks, we were told that the size difference was closing, and that they'd be around the same size. Well, when they were born, they looked completely different. They were a bit over 2 pounds apart in weight. [Daughter A] looked exactly like my mental picture of what _my_ baby(ies) would look like. She was 7.5 pounds-- average for a singleton. She was a reasonably calm baby, and not terribly demanding (back then, anyway! ;-) ). Basically, I looked at her, and had that bolt out of the blue, magic, made-for-tv perfect bonding with her from the first moment.

"[Daughter B]-- well, I just wasn't sure what to do with her.... It wasn't until the third day that I looked at her and said, yes, she's mine. Triggered, in fact, by seeing my [sister-in-law] hold her! I had no trouble watching my husband with her, but anyone else set off a raging jealousy which, though not as nice as 'bonding,' proved there was _some_ connection.... But it still wasn't enough. She looked nothing like what I had expected. She was low birthweight-- looked like a little chicken. She had trouble latching on, so feedings were a struggle. (Even with bottles.) And she was collicky. Hours of crying, every night. AAARRGGGHH! I just wasn't sure how to connect with her at all.

"But you know what happened? Maybe I didn't get that bolt of lightning with her, but I got to fall in love.... It was her hands that first started it. They were so tiny, so sweet! I'd look at those little hands, so different from her sister's, and just melt! The feeding difficulties actually helped, too.... Her colic was worse when she got formula, so I pumped for her until she figured out how to latch on. The fact that there was something I could do for her, that no one else could, helped strengthen the growing bond. Then as time went on, and her personality developed, there was more and more to love. Oh, her laugh! She still has a terribly infectious giggle. Something gets her started, and before we know it, the whole family is roaring with laughter. (And did I mention that that colic magically disappeared at 4 months?? Ah, Bliss!!)

"Sorry this is getting so long. But I really want to assure you that bonding doesn't need to be the same, or happen at the same time. You'll find something that will trigger the process. With [daughter A], I got that instant bond, which is truly wonderful. But I got to fall in love with [daughter B], and that's pretty amazing, too."

Remember that different babies have different needs at different times.

"[O]ur boys are 7 mo old now. I know exactly how you feel. [Twin son A] was a very fussy infant, and I was constantly paying attention to him while [twin son B] just waited his turn. We said "[Twin B], you're being so patient" SO many times I was afraid those would be his first words! This made me feel like a horrible mom, and I often felt what I call "overly divided" (scattered). NOW, [twin A] is happy as a clam, entertaining himself, and [twin B] is demanding more attention. So really, they just have different needs at different times. It's SO hard to try to treat them *equally* without treating them *the same*. I'm always trying to balance meeting their individual needs with treating them *equally*. I think that it's how you treat them over the long run that matters the most. Sometimes one will need more of your attention, sometimes the other. Just my opinion. Good luck!"

Their needs will change over time.

"When [my twin boys] were born, I got to hold [twin A] a lot because [twin B] had trouble maintaining his body temp. and was in the nursery on the warmer frequently. [Twin B] also spent most of those early days either sleeping or crying and had trouble latching on. In our discussions, we discovered that my husband, my daughter and I had all bonded with [twin A] first. At about 4 weeks, [twin B] calmed down and had these long mellow periods where he'd lie there looking at toys. At the same time, [twin A] became colicky. He'd wake up from a nap and the first thing he'd give a big frown and then start crying. I was OK with it when I was in the middle of it, but sometimes when I got a little perspective I'd wonder how I was able to stand it. I had moments when I thought it would have been perfectly fine to have had one baby only and that it should have been [twin B]. I think I knew at the time that I was mostly just stressed out with all the crying, so I didn't get too upset about that feeling. In time, [twin A] got more interested in life, and now at age 5, they seem to have a good ability to share moments of being very sweet, very engaging and very annoying.

"I have heard some people say that their 'favorite' child is the one they happen to be holding right at that moment, or the one who comes over to kiss them right at that moment, and that seems to be a good way to express how things are in our house (of course sometimes I have 2 or 3 favorite children at that moment)."

Loving them equally isn't synonymous with treating them the same.

"Tell that Mommy guilt to go jump in a lake! Seriously though, I've experienced something similar. Try this perspective change. You really are loving them both equally because you are giving them each what they need when they need it. Right now [your son] needs a lot of physical comfort. [Your daughter] is happy to have time to explore her world independently. In time, each of their needs will probably change and you will get some more time to bond with [her] too."

Remember that it won't always be this way.

"Yes, I was there, too. My daughter was much more demanding than my son, so I spent more time holding her than him in the beginning. And I felt the same guilt! At the same time, I also got defensive of my daughter when everyone praised my son because he was so good and charming, etc., while poor [daughter] couldn't stop fussing/crying. As I recall, she spent an awful lot of time at the breast, just being soothed!

"Somewhere around 4 months, my daughter mellowed a bit and I was able to spend more time holding my son. Now, at 15 months, she still demands my attention a bit more than [my son], but I would say I play with and cuddle them about equally." 

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