Thursday, April 29, 2010

Conflicting Information About Vaccines

One of the first things a new parent is asked to decide is how he or she is going vaccinate their child.  As with many things about raising children, there is no clear cut answer to this issue and there are compelling arguments to be made on both sides of it.  My husband and I believe in vaccines and in the fact that they have saved countless lives.  We (well, more me than "we") also believe that the current vaccine schedule pushed by pediatricians and the media advocates too much, too soon, too often.  Obviously, this is my own opinion and I would never judge anyone for what they decide is right for their family.  We chose to give our children all of the vaccines suggested for them up till now, but spread them out as much as we could.  Yes, it meant the kids were at the doctor's office more often than "necessary", but I felt more comfortable knowing I wasn't bombarding their little bodies with so many things all at the same time.  I knew that in Europe there is an entirely different vaccination schedule and it didn't make sense to me to push so much on their tiny bodies at so young an age.

There are many out there who believe that there is the possibility that vaccines, although they usually cure most people, have caused great damage to others.  There is the theory that some people are predisposed to be more sensitive to what is in these vaccines thus making them susceptible to things like Autism and so forth.  I'm not a doctor.  I don't know the answer.  But for me, that makes some degree of sense.  And to me, I think: "why not follow that hunch and see if that is so".

Dr. Jay Gordon is a remarkable doctor here in LA.  He's not our pediatrician but he is a very present voice on the side of less medicine for our children.  To me that's remarkable - a Western medicine doctor, extremely learned and respected, who is very verbal about his views on the way medicine is practiced here in an America.  And his views are not mainstream to most.  It was Dr. Gordon that put my mind at ease about Swine Flu.  When everyone was freaking out about getting vaccinated, I read his newsletters advocating common sense and seeking to establish calm.  I chose to follow my gut, not to get the flu shots and our kids, and we, were absolutely healthy throughout the flu season.

Recently Dr. Gordon was interviewed for a PBS documentary entitled "The Vaccine War".  Inexplicably his entire interview (and other interviews which support his point of view) were eliminated from this show.  If any of you watched it, I thought it might be interesting to you to read Dr. Gordon's response to this:

"Last night, PBS aired a show called "The Vaccine War." I was interviewed at great length and in great depth about vaccines and my point of view and expressed my ambivalence about the polarization of this issue and the need for more calm reasoned discussion about the number one question that new parents have. 
I told Kate McMahon, the co-producer of the show, that there was a large group of doctors and others who cannot be dismissed with the facile label "anti-vaccine" because we still give vaccines and see a place for them in the practice of medicine, but we do not agree with the current vaccine schedule nor the number of vaccines children receive all at one time.

A few days ago, Ms.McMahon emailed me to tell me that the decision had been made to omit my interview from the show. There would not be one word from me. She didn't tell me that she had also omitted 100% of Dr. Robert Sears' interview. And that any other comments from physicians supporting the parents on the show in their ambivalence about vaccines or their decision to refuse all vaccines would also be omitted.

She left this as a show with many doctors commenting very negatively, very frighteningly and often disdainfully and dismissively about vaccine "hesitation" as they called it.

Below is my email response to Kate McMahon.

Dear Kate,

The "Frontline" show was disgraceful. You didn't even have the courtesy to put my interview or any part of the two hours we spent taping on your web site.

You created a pseudo-documentary with a preconceived set of conclusions: "Irresponsible moms against science" was an easy takeaway from the show.

Did you happen to notice that Vanessa, the child critically ill with pertussis, was not intubated nor on a respirator in the ER? She had nasal "prongs" delivering oxygen. I'm sorry for her parents' anxiety and very happy that she was cured of pertussis. But to use anecdotal reports like this as science is irresponsible and merely served the needs of the doctor you wanted to feature.

No one pursued Dr. Offit's response about becoming rich from the vaccine he invented. He was allowed to slide right by that question without any follow up. Dr. Paul Offit did not go into vaccine research to get rich. He is a scientist motivated by his desire to help children. But his profiting tens of millions of dollars from the creation of this vaccine and the pursuit of sales of this and other vaccines is definitely not what he says it is. His many millions "don't matter" he says. And you let it go.

Jenny McCarthy resumed being a "former Playboy" person and was not acknowledged as a successful author, actress and mother exploring every possible avenue to treating her own son and the children of tens of thousands of other families.

I trusted you by giving you two or three hours of my time for an interview and multiple background discussions. I expressed my heartfelt reservations about both vaccines and the polarizing of this issue into "pro-vaccine" and "anti-vaccine" camps. I told you that there was at least a third "camp." There are many doctors and even more parents who would like a more judicious approach to immunization. Give vaccines later, slower and with an individualized approach as we do in every other area of medicine.

What did you create instead?

"The Vaccine War."

A war. Not a discussion or a disagreement over facts and opinions, but a war. This show was unintelligent, dangerous and completely lacking in the balance that you promised me--and your viewers--when you produced and advertised this piece of biased unscientific journalism. "Tabloid journalism" I believe is the epithet often used. Even a good tabloid journalist could see through the screed you've presented.

You interviewed me, you spent hours with Dr. Robert Sears of the deservedly-illustrious Sears family and you spoke to other doctors who support parents in their desire to find out what went wrong and why it's going wrong and what we might do to prevent this true epidemic.

Not a measles epidemic, not whooping cough. Autism. An epidemic caused by environmental triggers acting on genetic predisposition. The science is there and the evidence of harm is there. Proof will come over the next decade. The National Children's Study will, perhaps by accident, become a prospective look at many children with and without vaccines. But we don't have time to wait for the results of this twenty-one year research study: We know that certain pesticides cause cancer and we know that flame retardants in children's pajamas are dangerous. We are cleaning up our air and water slowly and parents know which paint to buy and which to leave on the shelves when they paint their babies' bedrooms.

The information parents and doctors don't have is contained in the huge question mark about the number of vaccines, the way we vaccinate and the dramatic increase in autism, ADD/ADHD, childhood depression and more. We pretend to have proof of harm or proof of no harm when what we really have is a large series of very important unanswered questions.

In case you were wondering, as I practice pediatrics every day of my career, I base nothing I do on Dr. Wakefield's research or on Jenny McCarthy's opinions. I respect what they both have done and respectfully disagree with them at times. I don't think that Dr. Wakefield's study proved anything except that we need to look harder at his hypothesis. I don't think that Jenny McCarthy has all the answers to treating or preventing autism, but there are tens of thousands of parents who have long needed her strong high-profile voice to draw attention to their families' needs: Most families with autism get inadequate reimbursement for their huge annual expenses and very little respect from the insurance industry, the government or the medical community. Jenny has demanded that a brighter light be shone on their circumstances, their frustration and their needs.

I base everything I do on my reading of CDC and World Health Organization statistics about disease incidence in the United States and elsewhere. I base everything I do on having spent the past thirty years in pediatric practice watching tens of thousands of children get vaccines, not get vaccines and the differences I see.

Vaccines change children.

Most experts would argue that the changes are unequivocally good. My experience and three decades of observation and study tell me otherwise. Vaccines are neither all good--as this biased, miserable PBS treacle would have you believe--nor all bad as the strident anti-vaccine camp argues.

You say the decisions to edit 100% of my interview from your show (and omit my comments from your website) "were purely based on what's best for the show, not personal or political, and the others who didn't make it came from both sides of the vaccine debate." You are not telling the truth. You had a point to prove and removed material from your show which made the narrative balanced. "Distraught, confused moms against important, well-spoken calm doctors" was your narrative with a deep sure voice to, literally, narrate the entire artifice.

You should be ashamed of yourself, Kate. You knew what you put on the air was slanted and you cheated the viewers out of an opportunity for education and information. You cheated me out of hours of time, betrayed my trust and then you wasted an hour of PBS airtime. Shame on you.

The way vaccines are manufactured and administered right now in 2010 makes vaccines and their ingredients part of the group of toxins which have led to a huge increase in childhood diseases including autism. Your show made parents' decisions harder and did nothing except regurgitate old news.

Parents and children deserve far better from PBS."

Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Motherhood: Otherwise Known As Therapy.

Sometimes I'm a great mom.  Other times I feel like a lousy one.  Having twins has been the most amazing blessing and at the same time it is the hardest, most exhausting thing I have ever done.  But not in the way you might think.

Sure, there's the lack of sleep.  Any parent will mention that.  And yes, with twins, sleep disturbances take on new proportions.  But that's a post for another time.  Yes, with twins there's the never ending battle over sharing toys and who gets mom's attention.  But that too, is another post.

What I have found to be the absolute most exhausting thing about having children is all of the self-examination that is required.  I have done a lot of therapy over the years.  I have studied various methods, I have had my own therapy sessions, I have counseled others, but I have never learned as much about myself as I have just trying to be a good mother.  

Anyone who tells you that your childhood traumas don't resurface, or whose buttons don't get pushed, or who doesn't find themselves repeating old patterns is either fooling themselves or is, on some level, not paying attention to themselves or their children. In addition, nothing will push the boundaries of what you and your partner can weather as much as having multiples.

One of the first things I noticed, when I became a mom, was my intense need to connect to our kids.  I would interrupt conversations to attend to them, I would respond to every sound or word they uttered.  Not to spoil them, but because it ripped my heart out to think that they could ever, for one second, feel ignored.  Then, one day my father was visiting and I watched as the two kids played in front of him, happily trying to get his attention while he, unaware, typed away on his computer.  All of a sudden all of my childhood memories of trying to get my father's attention came flooding back.  All those memories of feeling not good enough or not important enough for him to pay attention to were fresh and raw.  I realized that unconsciously I was trying to protect our kids from ever feeling what I had felt.  Every time they need me I struggle with finding the balance between connecting with them in order to make them feel heard and understood, and disengaging from them in order to give them a sense of autonomy and confidence in themselves.

Over the years, my father and I have worked through a lot of the old wounds. He is a wonderful father and yet, I still have "issues" with not being heard, not being understood or connected to.  Sometimes I think those wounds must have left scar tissue that, when irritated, flares up and feels like a brand new pain.  I dread the idea that one day my kids will be in therapy discussing something I unwittingly did that hurt them.  Perhaps it's inevitable.  But I do believe that feeling "felt" is a primal need.  I think I do a pretty damned good job at connecting to my kids and it's a constant effort to stay in that head space.  

Chaos is another trigger for me. Not such a great trigger to have when you have twins as chaos more or less goes with the territory! My husband is one of 7 children and is, on many levels, at ease with the storm that swirls around him, both at home and at work.  I love him for this because he is often the rock I cling to. My early childhood had a certain level of instability as my family traveled for a number of years throughout Europe letting hitch hikers determine our destination.  In addition, I was an only child with parents who worked and was used to being on my own, in solitude and quiet.  My need now for order, routine and a certain level of peace is enormous.  It gives me a sense of calm, safety and permanence. These deep-seated needs coupled with having twin infants is a difficult combination. My husband's desire for spontaneity often butts up against my need to stick to the plan. This difference in our personalities is one of the major reasons we were attracted to each other in the beginning and never was an issue until our children arrived; once the kids came these different styles became hard to reconcile. We realized that it was imperative to understand where these issues came from and how to release them if we were going to parent effectively and if we were going to
keep our marriage strong. Other than finding a great therapist, I recommend reading a book called "Parenting From The Inside Out" if you sense that your past is affecting your present.

It is said that your body stores old trauma and, when something happens that triggers that memory, your brain cannot distinguish between then and now. It reacts as if the danger is current. Your survival techniques kick in, your childlike reactions flare up. I am re-learning how to react to things and trying to mother myself as well as my children.  Occasionally I miss the mark and behave like a child myself.  But other times I am so in touch with myself and my children that I feel like I am moving as if in a dream; nothing disturbs me, nothing fazes me. My children can be throwing overlapping tantrums and I am able to be the parent they need in that moment.  When I am in that mode, I am no longer a child needing to control a chaotic situation, I am a mother holding space for my daughter who needs to know that her big feeling are OK to have. I am no longer a child feeling that she is not worthy of being listened to, I am a mother tuning in to my son and understanding that he is unable to focus on what I am saying because he is overtired. I am a mother doing the best she can, and my children have been my greatest teachers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

One On One

Newborn Twins
One of the fantasies that I had about being a twin mom is how I would instantly love both my babies in exactly the same way (that's them in the picture to the right).  What surprised me the most when our twins were born is how very common it is for parents of multiples to feel more of a connection to one than the other.  It is so rarely talked about that it causes a great deal of shame for those of us who experience it.  This is not postpartum depression but rather an imbalance between how easily you connect to one twin over the other.  This bond imbalance can fluctuate, shift from one child to the other and generally does not last - especially if the parent is proactive about it. This is an issue that I believe exists solely for those of us with multiples; a singleton mother may feel disconnected from her child at times, but she doesn't have the side-by-side comparison staring her in the face which adds to the already enormous guilt.


When our children were born, our son arrived first.  After 18 hours of labor he pushed his way out and was placed on my chest. He blinked at me and made a sort of mewing sound - like a kitten.  I felt this huge rush of emotion and felt instantly that I wanted to love and protect him.  He was a gentle, quiet, easygoing baby with plaintive cries.  He needed me and he was easy to love.  Our daughter was born an hour and 10 minutes after our son - right from the start she had her own ideas about how she was going to do things!  She came out, red-faced and screaming.  I was jarred by her loud sounds after so many hours of labor and didn't know what to make of her.  When she would cry at home she always sounded pissed off and insistent.  She was more difficult to figure out.  I had a hard time describing her personality when people asked.  I actually felt like she liked our nanny more than me.  I was having a hard time bonding.  And I felt awful.  Here was my little girl, so beautiful and perfect and who needed me so much.  Of course I loved her.  But I felt distant.  It was so natural with our son.  Why was it so hard with her?


At some point I began to realize that some of what I connected to in my son were personality traits of mine that I liked (being sensitive, being quiet, being cooperative).  Our daughter has some of the traits I have that I struggle with (being bossy, needing to be in control, being opinionated).  Also, she was just a little more difficult - she fussed more, slept less and didn't eat as well. Things were generally more tough with her. I subconsciously compared the two of them.  It was unfair to her, but he was just easier and it made it easier to want to be around him. I felt as though I wasn't able to be the mother she wanted, as though I didn't know how to help her. I knew I needed to spend more time with her, I needed to get to KNOW her.  This insight fortunately coincided with letting our first nanny go.  I had no choice but to spend all day and night with the two of them.  And when my husband was available, he would sometimes take our son so I could have less on my plate and I would have alone time just with our daughter.  I began to trust myself with her and to understand her cries and to know who she was.  It took time and effort but suddenly I realized I was bonding with her!


Now that I am years past those days I look back and it seems so obvious that when you're not connecting with someone you want to be close to the best way to change things is to spend more time together.  But when you're an exhausted mom of newborn twins you aren't always thinking clearly and sometimes you just want things to be easy - you don't have the mental capacity for dealing with one more thing that needs your attention.  Your hormones are all over the place and it is so easy to start feeling insecure and begin to doubt your capabilities.  If you're feeling this imbalanced feeling towards your babies, please know it's normal.


In my experience, once you have determined that postpartum depression is not a factor, the greatest way to connect to your babies is to have one-on-one time with them.  In the beginning this may seem strange as the idea most of us have of twins is that they are always together.  But there is nothing better you can do for your children than to let them have you all to themselves once in a while.  If you care for your babies on your own sometimes the only way to have that alone time is if one is sleeping and the other wakes early - take what you can get!  It doesn't have to be anything spectacular either.  On one of our early outings I took our son to get the car washed.  He loved it!  As they get older, be sure to say out loud that this is special time with you and him/her.  That way they are aware that even if all you're doing is going to the supermarket, it's special for mommy or daddy to get to be alone with me on my own without my twin!


This bonding time is helpful in so many ways - not just to bond to a twin you may have a disconnect with, but also to help your children begin to develop a sense of their identity away from their twin.  You will learn things about your babies that you never could have learned if you had them together all the time.  And they will learn about themselves.  The earlier you start doing this the easier it will be but even if you wait until they are older, do it as soon as you can.


You may hit some snags as the children get older.
  • If say they don't want to leave their twin behind remember that they don't always know what is best for them and do it anyway.  They will enjoy it once they are with you.  And, if it helps, you can suggest that they bring back something special for their sibling - we often stop by the dollar bins at Target to pick something out when we have our special one-on-one days.  
  • Or the one that is going with the nanny instead of mommy may complain.  This happens with us a lot.  No one compares to mommy.  Even if you have the greatest nanny.  Even if they are going with daddy or grandma....no one is as good as mommy.  Secretly, I love this.  But it is very frustrating at times.  The best way I've come up with to combat this is to make sure the other person is doing something REALLY good.  For example, I will do something "boring" like run errands (which my kids still like to do so I am doing it while I am still able to!).  Our nanny will be going somewhere really fun like the zoo or a park they love.  Early on I also used to have a "Nanny Box" which had special toys that only came out when they were with their nanny.  This worked for a long time.  
However hard it was in the beginning, I adore my daughter and feel that I know her very well now.  Our son is still an "easier" kid, still a great eater, still sweet and lovable.  And she is still feisty and opinionated and a picky eater - the difference is that now I know her well enough to see that she is also extremely smart, very nurturing and incredibly kind. The difference is now I KNOW her. I never could have gotten to this place if I always had her brother next to her as a comparison.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Are You Always So Tired?

Enough said...
My friends without kids ask me this sometimes.  I think even my friends who have singletons may wonder.  And, if you can believe it, my husband asks me constantly if maybe I need to go to the doctor to have myself checked out. I am tired. No, let me correct that.  I am exhausted, wiped out, dead dog tired. Not all the time, but more often than not.  I love being a mother more than any job I've ever had.  I am good at it. Most of the time.  And I put my all into it. Maybe that's why I'm so tired. 

There is just something about my day as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) that is so much harder than any job I've ever had (and I've had some tough ones). My mom friends with multiples who also work outside of home often tell me that work feels like a welcome break to them. There, in the office, there is the opportunity to zone out for a moment without the possibility that someone may stick a quarter up their nose.  There is a chance to feel completely competent at what you are doing as opposed to constantly worrying that you're preparing your children for years of therapy to undo all you have done to them.  There is acknowledgment for a job well done. There are assistants to delegate to.  Not so for the SAHM.  Oh sure, we may have a nanny or baby sitter.  Grandma may help out or even dad.  But somehow this doesn't seem to change the fact that we, as mothers, still feel as though we are on the job 24/7.

I recently read a very funny article in The Washington Post in which a woman without children had complained that her friend with kids had no time for her and what could a stay-at-home mom be doing all day that was so hard?  The response to her query was quite hilarious and sadly, very accurate:

"...When you have young kids, your typical day is: constant attention, from getting them out of bed, fed, clean, dressed; to keeping them out of harm's way; to answering their coos, cries, questions; to having two arms and carrying one kid, one set of car keys, and supplies for even the quickest trips, including the latest-to-be-declared-essential piece of molded plastic gear; to keeping them from unshelving books at the library; to enforcing rest times; to staying one step ahead of them lest they get too hungry, tired or bored, any one of which produces the kind of checkout-line screaming that gets the checkout line shaking its head.

It's needing 45 minutes to do what takes others 15.

It's constant vigilance, constant touch, constant use of your voice, constant relegation of your needs to the second tier.

It's constant scrutiny and second-guessing from family and friends, well-meaning and otherwise. It's resisting constant temptation to seek short-term relief at everyone's long-term expense.

It's doing all this while concurrently teaching virtually everything -- language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, discipline, curiosity, creativity. Empathy. Everything..."

I was exhausted just reading it and then I thought....and that's just with a singleton!  Add on top of that all of the stuff that goes along with raising multiples and you might just pass out!  

Let me pause here and say that I adore having twins.  I would never trade this experience for anything in the world.  And I am not merely complaining so I can say my lot is tougher than someone else's. I am writing and contemplating these things because I feel there is a lack of information out there for parents of multiples.  We are expected to simply feel joy and excitement about having twins ("how lucky you are!") and when we don't always feel that way we can feel ashamed.  Particularly those of us who have undergone fertility treatments in order to have our children - how can we be so ungrateful as to complain about having twins when we once were crying over not having any children?!

So, having said all of that, let's get back to what we were talking about....WHY AM I SO TIRED???

Perhaps it's trying to constantly connect to two people.  Or more specifically, it's the trying to understand who each of them is in an attempt to encourage their unique personalities so as not to have them grow up resenting being a twin.  I know I can't protect my kids from everything but, as an only child, I have to work a little harder to understand what it's like to have a sibling.  And even more than a sibling - a twin.  There is so much about being a twin that is wonderful, but it can be a burden if one is not careful.  I don't ever want my kids to feel this way and I put a lot of effort into avoiding the labeling and comparing and lumping together that comes with being a twin. There is so much mental exhaustion and guilt that goes along with being a parent of twins that I was unprepared for.  I have guilt when I feel more connected to one than the other (although it shifts back and forth all the time as their personalities develop and change).  I feel guilt when one takes up all of my attention because he/she is going through a trying phase and the "easy" one is ignored.  I feel guilt about letting their nanny spend so much time with them because they are so much better behaved around her.  The list goes on and on.  All that guilt is exhausting!

Dr. Joan Friedman who is an identical twin, a psychotherapist and mother to 5 (including twin boys) wrote in her book "Emotionally Healthy Twins" some very interesting thoughts on this topic:

"...In addition to the expected joy and exhaustion, having two babies unexpectedly ushers in feelings of guilt, inadequacy, concerns about fairness, and overall emotional overload.  Not only are you dealing with the nonstop physical needs of two new babies and being called upon to intuit and decipher two different infant temperaments, but the sheer enormity of the job makes you doubt your competence and effectiveness as a mother or father.  And if such pressures aren't enough, preterm births and complicated deliveries, common with twins, mean that your babies may have required hospitalization in the neonatal intensive care unit.  So prior to coming home from the hospital you may have faced obstacles that most parents of singletons don't have to contend with.  The bottom line is, you are more than entitled to feel exceptionally overwrought and overwhelmed."

Lest you feel that there is nothing but exhaustion and guilt in raising twins please believe me that it is the greatest joy I have ever experienced.  Yes, I am tired often.  But when my son snuggles in with me and tells me about his day or my daughter reaches her hand up to my face and tells me "you are a nice mommy".....none of the exhaustion matters.  That is my reward and my acknowledgment for a job well done.  My children are happy.  And all of that exhaustive effort is worth it.

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lecture: Everything You Want To Know About Twins

I tend to give special attention to books or lectures or programs dedicated to twins.  Often there are a lot of generalizations made or misconceptions repeated so they don't always resonate for me, but I try to go in with an open mind.  Next month there will be a lecture given at UCLA which sounds as though it could be quite exciting. It is hosted by Abigail Pogrebin who is an identical twin and who has written a book called "One And The Same" (subtitled: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular). The book makes some fascinating observations about life as a twin and how it can be both wonderful and difficult to grown up as one.  

Ms. Pogrebin, a former 60 Minutes producer, is a dynamic speaker and is moderating a lecture hosted by the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics that is being called a "rare gathering of six of the country's top experts in the field of twins' development, genetics, and psychotherapy". See all the information about the 6 experts who will be speaking at the lecture on this flyer.

UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History Lenart Auditorium Tuesday May 18th at 7:00 pm (promptly)
RSVP: darwin@socgen.ucla.edu or (310) 267-5471
Admission: Free (parking is $10)

I will be attending and would love to see you there. If you can't make it, I will definitely be reporting back on what I learned!

Tantrums!


When you have twins, tantrums can sometimes happen in stereo. Two children, screaming bloody murder over seemingly inconsequential things such as being put down when they wanted to be carried, can be overwhelming. Tantrums happen with every child, but with twins there can be added complications.

Of our two children, it is our daughter who most often throws tantrums. I describe her often as full of passion and someone who needs a sense of control and autonomy. With a child like this one thing you can do when tantrums happen is try to give her lots of places where she can make her own decisions. The more areas where she has some control over the situation the less she may throw fits at other times. Think about how much of their day is decided for them - what they eat, where they go, what they wear, what music is played - there's tons of things. Pick things where whatever she chooses won't matter to you - do you want the red dress or the blue one? Do you want to brush your teeth first or put on your pjs first? Do you want Mommy to take you out of your car seat, or Daddy? Try that first and see if it helps a bit.

As for when they're actually having a tantrum, what I tend to do when one of mine has them is to remember that the tantrum is about huge feelings that they don't yet know how to control/express. I try to just hold space for that child by being with him/her. That way they know they are safe, that their feelings are ok to have, that they are not getting whatever it is they are screaming about when they are screaming but that Mommy is ready to listen when they are ready to calm down. With twins it is not so simple to just remove the child having the tantrum.  If I am alone with the two I just sit near the child with the tantrum and tell her that I love her and I will be here to talk when she's able to calm down. At the height of a tantrum kids can't hear you giving solutions. Literally. Their capacity for hearing is diminished drastically. Try to notice when she is beginning to "come down" a bit and THEN gently offer a hug or ask if she wants to sit in your lap or suggest a distraction. Once she has calmed down you can talk more effectively (obviously).

For us, it is actually more effective NOT to leave them in that moment. To me, when a child is losing it, it is when they need us most. They don't understand all of the feelings they are having. Getting angry at them (as you may want to, because it's SO frustrating) will eventually just show them that it's wrong to have those feelings. We have to teach them how to express themselves. For younger children it's hard because most likely they don't have a ton of language, but it is still worth doing because tantrums will continue and having some tools in your toolbox to deal with them is great.

What we have done, over the years, is a combination of things.
  • We constantly try to give them language for what they are feeling. Use all sorts of words - not just angry and happy. "I feel jealous". "She hurt my feelings". "I feel left out". "I want your attention". Whatever you think might be going on for them. When you verbalize what they are feeling they feel connected to and almost instantly the drama lessens. "Connect before you redirect" is the phrase I always try to keep in mind.
  • We try to express our OWN feelings when the kids are around. "Mommy is getting frustrated" "I feel my frustration in my tummy" (helping the kids to begin to notice where they feel things in their body so they can be aware when those sensations arise). "Mommy feels so relaxed now" (as if that ever happens. Hahaha) and so forth. Don't forget to express good feelings!
  • I have worked with them a lot to try to learn deep breathing. It takes some time, but by the time our kids were 3 years old, if they are wailing away I can now say "you need to calm you body down, can you take a deep breath?" and they most often were able to start doing it. Deep breathing is an amazingly effective tool for calming not just THEIR bodies but yours as well! 
  • Help them calm down by creating a "cool down" place. I don't like to use time outs as a punishment (everyone has different ways of looking at this issue - this is just what works for us). Instead, I am working with the kids to let them know that everyone (even adults) have times when emotions are really big and they need to cool down. When they are getting really worked up and headed towards a tantrum I try to catch them and say that I notice they are having a hard time and do they feel like they need a cool down. Sometimes they say no, but sometimes they agree and we head off to "Alaska". They picked a place that is "very, very cold" (Hence, they called it Alaska) and decorated it so it is comfy and that is where we sit to "cool down". I go with them if it's possible, sometimes they want to go alone (usually they want me). We just sit together and they chill out. When they're ready to return usually things have passed.
These are all just ideas. Some may work. Some not. I'm sure there's a ton I've left out. Our daughter went through a phase of tantrums and then they seem to have gone away. For the time being anyway. :-) It's tough to deal with, but the more language they have to express themselves, the better.


Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sleep, glorious sleep

Ah.....sleep. I remember you well. Once, not so long ago you would find me in the afternoon. You would wrap your warm arms around me and whisper in my ear: "time for a nap". Sleep. I used to sleep soundly through the night and wake when my body was rested. I used to Sleep In! My husband would tease me because I could never sleep past 8 or 9 on a vacation and I would try to push myself to sleep a little longer. Somewhere along the way I have forgotten what all of that was like.

6:30 a.m. That's what time our children wake now. And that's late for them. We went through a long period where our son would wake at 5. 5:30. A few times, even 4:45. And he was UP. And he wanted you to be up too and it was TIME TO START THE DAY. Seriously? That is not morning. That is what time you wake up if you're in the army. Or prison.

I don't function well on lack of sleep. Somehow Dad manages to do it and still go to work and function at a particularly high level. Me? Not so much. I am cranky. I am slow. I am impatient. I resort to all sorts of things to get through the day like Jiffy Pop popcorn as entertainment and a Dora video as education. I decided it had to end. I needed sleep. And so did the kids!

I will say that Sleepy Planet saved our lives. They are geniuses when it comes to teaching your kids to sleep. They wrote a book which has most of their wisdom in it, but if it is in the realm of affordability to you, call and make a private consultation with them. Jill Spivack, one of the proprietors, is considered a "twin expert" and she has given us so much good advice over the years that we never got from just reading their book.

Sleep issues with children of differing ages is tough if they're sharing a room, but I believe that, like just about everything else, sleep disturbances with twins is exponentially more difficult. But I'm not interested in debating that, I'm just here to share some of our major trouble spots and what has worked for us so far.


  • As newborns, we used Dr. Harvey Karp's book, The Happiest Baby On The Block for our basic sleep plan. We swaddled, we used  white noise we shushed loudly and so forth. It worked very, very well for us. As a side note, many worry about getting "addicted" to white noise and I will say that our children still use a noise machine (although now they prefer music over "noise"). At some point your kids will be old enough to tell you they like it or they don't. It helps them sleep when they are babies and, with twins, it helps make a noise barrier between cribs so hopefully if one wakes in the night, he/she won't wake the other! The other things that was key to our sanity was keeping the babies on a schedule.  With twins it is almost out of the question to just let the babies decide when they are ready to sleep or eat. If your kids are not doing those two things at the same time, you will never leave the house and you will never get any sleep yourself.
  • At 5 months old we "sleep trained" our children using Sleepy Planet's methods.  They were already sleeping in their own cribs at this stage but we were rocking and singing them to sleep. Our son was obsessed with his pacifier. Every night he would drop it and cry for it and I would have to retrieve it. Our daughter would wake up the instant we put her down after bouncing, singing, rocking. Getting her to bed was taking forever.  There is a lot of controversy about CIO (Cry It Out) methods. I do not believe Sleepy Planet's method is a true CIO. Yes, it's hard to hear your baby crying and you do want to rush in to "fix" things. But you are not simply putting them in a crib and going to bed and ignoring them. You are slowly weaning them off of needing you to do everything for them and are teaching them to be able to soothe themselves to sleep. This worked fantastically well for us and within 3 nights our kids were sleeping on their own at night and within a week, naps were on track as well.
  • At around age 2 we began to have the issue of waking really early (as mentioned above). I was beside myself (as mentioned above). I would go in to tell whoever the offender was (usually our son) that it was still night time and he needed to go back to sleep. Then try the check ins recommended by Sleepy Planet. The problem was I was usually so exhausted at this point that I would give in and take him to our room and pray he would fall back to sleep. God help me if our daughter woke too and realized her brother was in there already! I found a product called The Good Nite Lite  which is basically a moon night light that you can set to turn into a sun at the desired wake up time. On the advice of Jill Spivack, I created the first of many books about our kids' sleep habits. Creating books about any major change that is about to happen is a fantastic way to help your children adjust. This book detailed their bed routine and introduced Mr. Moon and Mr. Sun (otherwise known as The Good Nite Lite). They learned quickly that if they woke up and saw Mr. Moon they would know it was still night time. If Mr. Sun was up they could call me quietly and I would come in to start the day. We've definitely had limit testing and they did scream for me if they woke early but if you remain consistent they learn very quickly that they are not getting what they want and they stop the screaming. I slowly was able to move their wake up time to 6:30. Heaven, for me!
  • By about 2 and a half, our daughter decided she didn't need to nap anymore. Naps.....my only sanity in these early years.  Our son would nap for 3 hours, but not her. At first she would happily play and sing to herself in her crib while he napped. Then she realized it was more fun if she woke him. I promptly put her in a Pack 'N Play in another room.  That worked for a while until I noticed that it was taking them over an hour to fall asleep at night and he was waking numerous times during the night as well. Sadly, I realized that both of our children were about to become Non-Nappers.   cried for about a week I think. After I dried the tears I called Jill again and she helped me create a new version of our book which included information about mommy calling the sleep doctor who helped come up with a new night time plan and why it was important for the kids to get a good night sleep and how mommy isn't coming into the room in the middle of the night etc. etc. (I will detail these books on another page as soon as I have some free time....they really are extremely helpful). We dropped the naps and move bedtime up by about 45 minutes at first (that part was fantastic for mommy).  They fell asleep instantly and slept through the night!  Mr Sun was waiting for them in the morning! Yay! Life was restored. After a week or two, bed time was back at it's usual hour of 7pm.

We've been doing really well with this routine but in a few weeks we will be transitioning to big kid beds. I'm anticipating having some sleepless nights and early mornings again. But I am preparing new books about the rules for having a big kid bed and my husband and I are planning to sleep in the new room with them for a night or two then slowly ease our way out of the room and back to our bed. And back to sleep.

As with many things about having small children, I remind myself often that I should enjoy this while it lasts. Those early morning cries are tough when I'm tired, but watching my children sleep peacefully in their bed (or mine), as they clutch their loveys, is a wonderful thing. When they're teenagers they will sleep until noon and I will miss them. I will, perhaps, be better rested...but I will miss the early morning cuddles with my little babies.

Private Schools and Twins

I plan to pull together some information about what we've gone through during the process of looking for schools for our twins as this is a really daunting and sometimes frustrating endeavor.  Let me begin by providing a link to terrific blog called Beyond The Brochure. Christina Simon, who writes this blog (and a book of the same name), has tons of great information about navigating the private school application process here in Los Angeles.  She recently posted an entry entitled "Two For The Price...Of Two"with really pertinent information for those of us going through the application process for our multiples.  


I promise to write more, but Daddy is in bed sick and I am on birthday party duty by myself this morning!  :-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Nanny Search

As you may have noticed, I have been through a lot when it came to hiring a nanny to help me care for our twins.  I will begin by saying that when I had our children I knew next to nothing about kids.  I am an only child from such a small family that I really never had babies in my life until my own were born. So I set about finding someone with very little knowledge or insight on my part.  Now that I am on the other side of this long battle I hope that my experiences, tips and advice will help others avoid going through the same struggles!

Let's start with the obvious.  Where do I find a nanny?  
  • All of our nannies, both good and bad, came from PeachheadNanny which is Yahoo chat group and a subgroup of Peachhead.  There are over 10,000 members on Peachhead and over 5000 members belong to PeachheadNanny.  Parents will post when they have a nanny to recommend, nannies themselves will post advertising that they are available, agencies occasionally post there as well.  I have found this to be the best source as there is such volume and it is solely dedicated to finding/placing nannies.  I've never actually posted an ad looking for someone, I always answer other people's referrals.  I tend to only answer referrals from a parent as opposed to a nanny posting for herself - it seems like a more fair assessment of someone's skills to have a referral from someone who has actually employed that person. FREE
  • Jen's List is another great source for finding a nanny (or just about anything else mom related).  Jen Levinson, who created that website and email newsletter, actually has two sets of identical twin boys (plus another singleton) so you may find twin related stuff peppered in amongst everything else she lists.  Every Tuesday she posts lists of nannies who are available to work.  Her list has about 13,000 subscribers so there is bound to be a lot of nanny information passed around.  It does tend to be Valley oriented, but nannies will travel farther than you think for a good family to work for. FREE
  • Some of my friends have found great nannies through Craigslist. What I have experienced using Craigslist is that during the times I used it, most (although certainly not all) of the nannies who seemed qualified tended to be European or American nannies/Au Pairs.  If that's the direction you are leaning towards definitely give Craigslist a try.  You will most likely get hit with a lot of junk mail if you advertise that you are looking for someone, but answering people's ads should leave you free of that. FREE
  • Check your local Multiples Club. In SoCal you can go to Southern California Mothers of Twins Clubs to find a club near you. Outside of Southern California, go to National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs. These are clubs to which parents (or expectant parents) of multiples can belong. There are wonderful and supportive parents in these clubs who post about available nannies - almost all of which will have had "multiples experience".  There is usually a small, yearly fee to join the club, but that money is put to great use and the club chat boards are so much more helpful than anywhere else when it comes to asking twin related questions.
  • Nanny Agencies are another route to follow. Agencies claim to do background checks, reference checks and interview each candidate before referring them. Most also offer to arrange Trustline verifications. In my experience, it is very important to thoroughly check all references yourself, as some agencies have been known to falsify records. And just because an agency sent her doesn't necessarily mean she's any better than a nanny you find through a personal referral or an online source such as PeachheadNanny. Agencies tend to take a fee equal to 15% of a nanny's yearly salary which, depending on how much you pay, can be an enormous amount of money. But depending on what you are looking for and how specific your needs are, sometimes an agency will be the best place to find the nanny you require. Additionally, a reputable agency should allow you to work with a nanny for a week or two before requesting their fee; they should additionally offer up to 3 months guarantee where they will replace your nanny at no extra charge if it does not work out. Here in LA there are a lot of agencies; the ones who, as of this posting, have been recommended most to me are: S'il Vous Plait (310) 395-8812, Buckingham Nannies and Domestics  (310) 247-1877, VIP Nanny Agency 310.614.3646, Sandra Taylor (310) 205-2810, Elizabeth Rose (310) 276-2555, Bella Bambino Nannies (888) 277-8730, Nurture and Nanny 310-270-6177, Lexington Nannies (818) 890-2191, La Maison Agency (310) 553-3509, Domestic Affairs (310) 552-4444, Elite Domestic Agency 310-424-5068, Help Company (310) 828-4111, Pavillion Agency (212) 889-6609 (in New York)
  • Lastly, you may come across a "Nanny Broker" in your search. These tend to be nannies who have many connections to other nannies. They do not do any kind of background or reference checks but they will give you names and numbers of nannies for you to interview. Some take a fee from the nanny, some take a fee from both nanny and employer; be sure to get details up front. In LA I know of two brokers; both refer primarily (perhaps exclusively) Latina nannies. Here is their contact information: Alicia (310) 850-1502 and Myra (323) 664-0843.
A word about "twins experience"
I feel that often nannies and nanny agencies prey upon new twin parents' anxieties by making it seem as though only a nanny with prior experience caring for multiples can do the job.  And because you have twins you should now have to pay a premium for that.  I disagree.  In fact, of our 5 nannies, only one had twin experience and she was actually the worst of the lot!  Not that this is the way it always is, but I don't want you to be bullied into a nanny that you can not afford simply because she has worked with twins before.  I always say that most of us never had twin experience until we became parents of twins.  It is possible to find a wonderful nanny even if she has never worked with twins.  

It is best if you have a nanny who has worked with multiple children, but it doesn't HAVE to be twins.  Having a nanny who has done it before is certainly a comfort if this is your first child, however, if she's new to multiples make sure she has an even temperament, is energetic and can multi-task, then half your battle is won!   Be certain, as well, to discuss the increased difficulty of twin toddlers over twin infants - some nannies make great infant nannies but come the toddler years they are overwhelmed.  And twin toddlers may make them exponentially so!  

How much do I pay?
This can be a complicated question because it depends on so many variables.  As I said, some nannies may feel that they can charge a premium for twins.  But besides the fact that they may have twin experience, do they speak/read/write English well?  Are they working legally (something that is a very real factor here in Los Angeles)?  Do they drive a safe car and have a clean driving record (assuming you want them to drive your children)? Do they have a degree in child development or some other such extra qualification that would justify a higher salary?  Most importantly (in my book): can you communicate with her?  Not just language-wise but someone who will tell you if they are unhappy or have concerns or if they disagree with something or have an opinion and so forth.  A person who has all of the things you are looking for is worth every dollar.  A nanny with twin experience who falls short in any of the areas that are important to you isn't worth anything.

You need to know before you start what you are looking for in terms of time.  How many hours per week do you think you will need?  Do you want to pay weekly or hourly?  How much more do you have to add when taxes are taken out?  Will you be offering extra perks?  Most families do offer vacation time, sick days, paid national holidays etc.  How many years do you expect her to stay with your family?  This is important because you will likely give her yearly raises; you don't want to start her at a salary that is so high that you will not be able to afford to give her a raise.  Any nanny will charge more for caring for more than one child and that is certainly fair and with twins you usually will pay slightly more but don't get so caught up in the fact that a woman has cared for twins if you can't afford what she is charging!

How do I chose the right one?
The first part of the answer is: Trust Your Gut.  Easier said than done sometimes.  We get wowed by the nanny with the glowing references or the smooth interview style.  But your gut always knows.  If you have any hesitation.....hesitate.  Of the five nannies I hired (and countless I interviewed), there was only one that I hired on the spot without even having my husband meet.  That's the woman we have now who is beyond terrific.  I just KNEW.  Of course, I had already had a lot of experience choosing nannies who weren't so great, so I had a lot to compare to!

The rest of the answer is: ask the tough interview questions.  It's very easy to just make small talk and ask yes or no questions especially if you're not used to interviewing and being a boss.  Here are a few really good interview tips from my own experience and from other mothers who've shared their own advice with me:
  1. A lot of references are fake.  Vague questions will allow for vague generalities (ie: Q: "how is she with newborns?" A: "Oh, she's wonderful with newborns.  She's so loving"). Try to ask questions that only the actual employer could answer, like how the nanny handles emergencies or specific examples of how she handles a misbehaving child.  
  2. Ask the person referring the nanny what the nanny's shortcomings are.  Everyone has shortcomings, they're a deal breaker only in certain relationships or contexts. 
  3. Ask open ended questions such as "what is a typical day for you as a nanny?", "how would you handle disciplining my children?"
  4. Make sure your children are present.  This seems obvious but you'd be surprised by how many people schedule an interview when the babies are sleeping so they can concentrate.  You want to see what this person is like with your children!  You want to gauge their reactions to her and she how she handles them.  Does she get down on the floor with them?  Does she ask to hold them?  Does she offer to play/feed/interact?
  5. Arrange for some trial period with the nanny so you can see what working with them would be like.  She should be paid for this time and it will give both you and the nanny an idea of what working together will be like.  I suggest at least one full day if not more.  I had one nanny I thought was going to be great until she worked with me for a day and spent every free minute of her interview day texting people. I can only imagine what she would have been like had I hired her!
  6. If you are a Stay At Home Mom a major consideration to discuss is how you want to utilize this nanny.  Do you want someone to spend the day with you and accompany you with the children?  Do you want her to have one of the children so you can have one-on-one time with the other?  Do you want her to take the children on her own?  Many nannies do not relish the idea of being with mom (or dad) being at home all day so you will need to discuss this fully.
  7. If you are both working parents I believe one of the major things to be considered is that your nanny will be the person most involved in teaching your children.  You certainly want someone loving and caring and trustworthy, but you may also want to consider that this person will have great influence over how your child learns to behave in the world.  You may want to look for someone with more of a background in child development, someone who has creative skills when it comes to discipline, someone who is on the same page as you when it come to encouraging the development of your child's emotional intelligence etc. etc.  Some nannies are fantastic when it comes to babies, but less so when the tough work of raising toddlers begins.
In addition to all of this information I think this article has some great tips and interview questions. And this New York Times article is terrific for some insight on how to communicate with the person you eventually hire. Remember, you are looking for a person to be a PARTNER with you in raising your child. At the end of the day, let someone go if she's not working out.  The process of looking for a nanny for your twins can be really tough, but it's not worth holding on to someone who's not wonderful just because you can't bear the thought of going through the process again.  When you find the right nanny you really will know.  And life will at once be simpler AND more complicated.  But that is a post for another time!  ;-)


Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What A Difference A Dad Makes

My children's terrific dad. Tired, but logging in
the long hours at home, too!

This is an article written by Leah Hennen that I thought was amazing.  I am including it here, although it doesn't specifically relate to twins, on certain levels it does.  I say this because raising any child without a partner is extremely hard; raising twins on your own is damn near impossible.  I believe that we all need a Father figure in our life for balance.  The "Dad" referred to in this piece should be thought of not just as a male, biological parent, but as someone (even a woman) who takes on the typical male role in the family.  So, if you are a same sex couple, look at it that way.  If you happen to be a single parent, hopefully there is someone in your children's life who can take on the other role in raising them - at least part of the time!  The emotional and psychological benefits are so enormous.


Here's Leah Hannen's original article:

What a difference a dad makes
There's no doubt about it: Dads on diaper duty are part of the cultural zietgeist.  Last month, British prime minister, Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, publicly called on her head-of-state hubby to put his political duties aside for at least a week to help care for their fourth child.  Around the same time, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin stepped down from his high-powered post to put in some quality time with newborn son, Darius.  But it's not just high-profile dads who are feeling the siren call of home life - a recent study by the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute found that for the first time ever, working fathers rank family above career, and two thirds of these devoted dads are even willing to trade a chunk of their paycheck for more time to bond with their baby.

That's good news, because a growing body of research has found that the more involved fathers are in their children's daily lives, the smarter, healthier, and happier their kids will be.  Among the perks of paternal pampering, according to recent studies:
  • Dads who are affectionate and spend time with their children are more likely to have securely attached infants.
  • Kids whose fathers do their fare share of hands-on childcare are ahead of the curve developmentally and in problem-solving, social and verbal skills.
  • Father-child interaction promotes physical well being, perceptual abilities, and social skills.
  • Children with involved fathers have enhanced cognitive development, greater self-esteem and self control, better life skills and social competence, and fewer behavioral problems.  
  • Girls who have close, playful relationships with their dads tend to be more popular and assertive.
  • Boys with strong paternal bonds do better academically and score better on IQ tests
  • The more involved dads are with their children's education, the better kids do in school and the more they enjoy learning.
  • Children with supportive fathers feel more competent, do better socially and cognitively, and are less likely to be depressed or have behavioral problems.
  • Children whose fathers spend alone time with them at least twice a week become more compassionate adults.
The benefits aren't just for the baby, either: Fathers are healthier, better-adjusted, more involved in community and service organizations, have better relationships with their own siblings and parents, and have stronger marriages than non-dads do.  What's more, though involved fathers tend to log fewer hours at the office, putting children at the top of their priority list seems to give men a career boost as well.  Research has found that these dads tend to handle work-related stress better, and that by middle-age, they're more successful than workaholics.

What do you think? Do you think the father in your family gets how much of a difference his presence makes? I'd love to know what you think.


Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach
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