Saturday, May 29, 2010

Feathering The Nest

One of the more exciting parts of being pregnant is getting your home ready for your babies. Sometimes when a couple learns that they are expecting twins the excitement turns to tension. There is concern about space and expense, there is confusion about what to buy (especially if none of you family or friends have twins), and sometimes there is a general sense that you just know nothing and don't know where to start! I wanted to address those things in today's post.

What to do first?
Getting a sense of where your new babies are going to live would be the first thing to tackle. Most people move into a home with the thought that they will have space for one baby. We were living in a small apartment when we found out we were expecting twins. It was hard to no longer live by the beach, but we knew we needed more space. If you are considering moving I recommend arming yourself with some information about schools before you do. I know, it sounds crazy to think about schools when your kids aren't even born but if you move to a beautiful home where the local public schools are less than wonderful, consider the fact that private school currently costs between $18,000 and $25,000 per year. PER CHILD. Move to a good school district if you can. If you want info on schools, here in LA you can start with books like Coping With Preschool Panic or The Whitney Guide or websites like GreatSchools.org.

Once you know where you're living, you need to consider how to fit all of the baby furniture into the nursery. I recently found this website called Design Yourself Interiors that provides you with craft paper "templates" for the furniture you are buying so you can lay it all out and see what will fit. Obviously, you can make these yourself (which is what I did when I was pregnant) using craft paper from Pearl or another such art supply store, but for those of you who don't have the time or inclination, it's pretty handy. Although the nursery seemed large, we quickly realized we didn't have space for a changing table once two cribs were in the nursery! Luckily, we were doing some renovations in our house already and were able to turn the closet of the babies' room into a built in dresser/bookcase/changing table. if you don't have this luxury, don't get caught up in having every item listed in magazines or books. You don't need a changing table for example. You just need something padded (like a towel on top of a rug or an inflatable pad like this) and you can change the babies on the floor or a bed.

Are there books I should read to prepare for having twins?
There are tons of books out there about giving birth to and raising twins. I never found any that I loved. In my opinion, some of them are, frankly, full of really scary information or are simply too clinical in nature to relate to. I read the standard "What To Expect When You Are Expecting" style of books and found them helpful, but the ones that really stood out and which we liked most are listed here. Hopefully you will like them too:
  • "The Birth Partner" by Penny Simkin. This was the only "dad" book my husband gives his stamp of approval on. It is especially great for the non-pregnant partner, as it gives them very practical information on what the birth mother is going through while pregnant. It also allows them to see what role they can play throughout pregnancy and during labor. It's actually subtitled: "A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions".
  • "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp for excellent tips on understanding and soothing your newborn. We loved his "5 S's" solutions to getting through the first month (or what Dr. Karp refers to as the "Fourth Trimester").
  • I was fortunate enough to not have a lot of difficulty breastfeeding. In addition, the doulas we had for the first month were a phenomenal help in that department. There are two books that have been recommended to me so I will post them with the caveat that I haven't yet read them and the comments made (in italics) are by friends/clients who I respect: "Mothering Multiples: Breastfeeding and Caring for Twins or More!" by Karen Kerkhoff Gromada. I will say, right off the bat, that I hesitated suggesting this book. I am not a La Leche League person. I breastfed my children for as long as my body would allow and supplemented with formula when necessary. In general, I find LLL's way of thinking too dogmatic. If you are conflicted about introducing the bottle or formula, do not read this as it may make you feel that your child is doomed should you ever try it. However, this is one of the few books I found with useful information about breastfeeding multiples. Try to ignore the fact that she spends a great deal of time discussing the benefits of breast milk over formula and you will get a lot of information about how to take care of yourself and your twins. 
  • As an alternative, I suggest "The Nursing Mother's Companion"by Kathleen Huggins. Although this is not a book specifically about multiples, it has been recommended to me numerous times by other mothers of twins as the best book on breastfeeding out there. Again, I will tell you to not be terrified by the author's insinuation that breast feeding is the only way to go if you wish to be a good mother. Put that aside and use her tips and information because they truly can be life savers. Ms. Huggins also wrote "The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning" which is worth a look if you like the first one.
  • Not exactly a book, but KellyMom.com has excerpts of books, articles and links to just about everything regarding breastfeeding multiples.
  • "Siblings Without Rivalry" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Not specifically about twins, but it will give you a real working knowledge of the ins and outs of the sibling relationship. 
  • The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent's Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5" by Jennifer Waldberger and Jill Spivack. This has been our "sleep bible" from the minute we picked it up. We used it to teach our children to sleep through the night, we constantly refer to it as they have grown and have new sleep disturbances and we have consulted often with Jill Spivack, one of the authors and a "twin sleep expert".
What do I actually need right away?
The bare minimum of baby gear you should have when you bring your babies home is:
  1.  A good car seat. I love the Britax ones as they are very well made and have the highest safety ratings. Be sure to have them installed in your car BEFORE your babies are born as you will not be allowed to take them home otherwise. Also, it would be a good idea to learn how to use it before you are faced with putting your tiny baby in one! I learned that the hard way! If you need someone to do this for you, many people I know, including us, have used Steve The Car Seat Guy. He will come to your home and show you how to install it yourself should you ever need to. Steve can be reached at (805)-223-3425. Also, some people love having a double Snap N Go which allows you to transfer your babies directly from car to stroller without removing them from the car seat (great if they're sleeping). Our kids were very laid back about being transferred to the stroller so I never used one, but others swear by it! Be sure that the brand of car seat you buy will work with the type of Snap N Go you purchase.
  2. A place for the baby to sleep. Most twins are so small that even a single, sturdy bassinet should do the trick if you haven't yet bought cribs. Twins can sleep side by side happily until they begin to roll over (3 - 4 months old). If you plan on having a family bed, it is a bit more difficult than with a singleton and most people opt to use a co-sleeper. Be sure to check out the weight restrictions if you want to keep both babies in one co-sleeper. Co-sleepers also double as a play pen, but they are quite small when you have two babies. Also, as I mentioned in my last post on the cost of having twins, you can use the Graco Twin Pack N Play with double bassinets.
  3. Clothes/Blankets: Our twins were a pretty decent size when we brought them home, having been delivered at just past 37 weeks. Although they weighed 6 lbs, 5 ounces and 6 lbs 2 ounces, the newborn clothes I had was all gigantic on them! A few preemie outfits are not a bad idea to have on hand. Our kids were still swimming in the Gap 0-3 clothes at 2 or 3 weeks! Some brands tend to run a bit small (generally, it's a similar rule to "grown up clothes": the more expensive it is, the smaller it is! Thus, Janie and Jack clothes will be smaller than Target clothes) and many offer preemie styles. Check consignment shops and your local Mothers of Multiples clubs as I mentioned in my post about the cost of having twins. Onsies, footed pajamas (even if it's Summer as babies don't keep themselves warm the way we do) and blankets if you plan to swaddle. I am a proponent of swaddling (one of the first thing you will be taught in the hospital is how to do it) and suggest reading Dr. Harvey Karp's book as I mentioned earlier. Your swaddling blanket choices will depend on the time of year, how long you plan to swaddle and how large your babies are. Many people love the Aiden + Anais muslin baby wraps. They're lightweight, very large and have attractive, subtle patterns on them. They double nicely as a sun shade if your stroller doesn't have one that covers your baby enough. Ours are Winter babies so we used these flannel blankets which we loved.
  4. Bottles/Breast Pump/Accessories: Even if you plan to breastfeed, and are successful with it, my belief is that you should introduce a bottle early on (even one feedings a day will do) so that your babies are familiar with it. Ask your pediatrician about when you should do this. Acceptance of the bottle allows your partner, or other family members (that's my dad in the picture to the right), to join in the wonderful bonding time that feeding a baby brings. It also will simplify things should you choose to not breastfeed in public or if you leave your child with a caregiver and are not able to get back in time for a feeding. Thus, bottles are important. The scare over BPA was in full force a few months after our children were born so I threw out all of my Avent, Medela and Doctor Brown's bottles and switched to Born Free. However, now all the brands have followed suit and make BPA-free bottles. We used Medela bottles in the very beginning along with Born Free bottles which we loved and continued to use until we transitioned from bottles to sippy cups at 11 months. I had no complaints at all (other than the expense). I have found that you need to try different bottles and different nipple types to see which your babies are comfortable with; thus, don't get a huge amount of anything until you are certain they are working for you. As for a Breast Pump, unless you plan to breastfeed for an extended period, I recommend renting one. We got ours through The Pump Station but your birth hospital should have them for rent as well. I breastfed and pumped for almost 7 months and it was still cheaper than buying one (and then I didn't have a pump taking up space in my house)! 
  5. Double Nursing Pillow. This isn't an absolute necessity either, but it is so unbelievably helpful that I would be remiss in not suggesting it. It will make nursing your babies at the same time so much easier. I used one from Double Blessings that worked great for me. 
  6. Diapers! You didn't think I'd forget that, did you? Diapers are a bit like bottles; everyone will have their preferences and you have to try them out to see what works best for you. I would have loved to try cloth diapers or even G-diapers, but once we learned we were having twins that seemed too daunting. Now that the kids are older, I have learned more about them and will post in the future some ideas for getting past the hurdle of trying them out. Anyway, what I found was that Pampers Swaddlers worked best when my kids were newborns as they were just over 6 lbs. If your babies are preemies, look into diapers made specifically for their size. As the babies grew, I switched to Huggies as I liked the fit better. Look into Diapers.com which will deliver just about anything baby related overnight! particularly if you have had preemies or a c-section, the last thing you want to worry about is running out of diapers.
Now that the babies are home and we've settled in a little, what toys, gear, equipment do we need to have?
Whether you wait until you get home or prepare the nursery ahead of time, it is easy to get caught up in wanting two of everything, being seduced by the cuteness of every item available and getting pulled in every direction by what everyone else says you will need. It's a little bit of trial and error. I will share a few of the things that worked great for us over the long haul and hopefully it will make things simpler for you:

Cribs. We had our kids in a crib from day one, but didn't buy the second crib for a few months as it wasn't needed until they started rolling over. The latest news out is that there may be a recall on drop side cribs. Drop sides are used to allow the parents easier access to their babies. If you are on the shorter side, I recommend being prepared with a stool as you will drop your crib mattress once your babies learn to pull themselves up and changing a crib sheet when you can't reach the mattress is no fun! Another thing to consider is the fact that some cribs convert to toddler beds. This is something to consider especially if your home is small. A toddler bed is much smaller than a twin bed (it is just the size of crib without the side rails) and will allow you to put off the expense of transitioning to two "big kid" beds for a little longer.
Mobiles. These are not in the least necessary, but we loved having it. I have videos of our kids happily watching them circle overhead. We loved our Tiny Love mobiles which played nice, classical music as well as nature sounds. The one thing I would tell you to look out for is a mobile whose music turns off; there is nothing more annoying than two out-of-sync mobiles playing in the same room!

Play Mat/Gymini: Every Mommy and Me leader will tell you the most important thing you can do for your baby is tummy time. With twins it's tough to find play mats that accommodate two babies so check out the dimensions and either buy two different ones or find one that's big enough. We always had luck with Tiny Love brand. Another great product is the padded tummy time blanket from Buppity Baby.  It's particularly useful when you have hardwood floors at home!

Pacifiers and teethers. Don't be scared of pacifiers. We've all heard the horror stories of kids who won't give them up or seen 5 year olds walking around still using them. The truth is, newborns need to suck. It's soothing for them and it's developmentally appropriate. Our son was a pacifier addict actually. And I worried. And when we sleep trained at 5 months he forgot all about them. I think pacifiers can be your best friend if you set boundaries about where and when to use them. With twins I suggest buying a different color for each child as it can be unhealthy to pass them back and forth between the kids without sterilizing the pacifiers. Teethers you'll want a little later, but it's great to have around when the need arises! Twisting up a wet washcloth and putting it in the freezer is great if you want to save some money or don't have a teether on hand. One of the most popular teethers of the moment is Sophie the Giraffe. She's very cute but read some of the negative reviews on Amazon; it's a little scary how easy it is for her legs to get stuck in your baby's throat. Plus, I prefer non-plastic when I can find it. Check out Haba wooden toys - they are beautiful, well-made and non-toxic. 


Stroller. There's always a debate over which type of double stroller is best. Some will love the tandem, some will love the side by side. There are even double decker one! We've had three types, two side by side and one tandem (a used one that I got at a very low cost). Personally, I hated the tandem. I didn't like the idea that one baby would be looking at the back of the other's head all day and it was so hard to maneuver! The side by side fits everywhere I want to go (stores have to allow for wheelchair access and a double stroller is no wider), and both kids got the same view of the world. We had a Combi Twin Savvy first and liked it a lot. UNTIL I tried my Citi Mini Double Stroller! Love it. The shade canopy extends so far you can cover the whole baby, it's so easy to maneuver and practically glides along the street, reclines completely so your infants can sleep in it, SUPER easy to open and close...I could go on and on. The only draw backs are that there you have to purchase snack trays separately (we liked having that a lot when the kids were little. Once they were over 2 or so it mattered less). Also, it folds flat so it takes up a bit of space if you plan to bring it in the house. Other than that, love it! Whatever stroller you get, I strongly recommend one with a single handle bar. We have a pair of McLaren single strollers which I really like, but they are impossible to steer with one hand - something that you will find you need often!  And speaking of those McLaren strollers. I urge you to spend the money on at least one, but preferably two, single strollers. I have written often about the importance of getting one on one time with your babies; it is good for your bonding, it is good for their individuation and it is good for your partner to have time alone with them. It doesn't have to be a fancy one, but do try to get a pair.

Pilates Ball. I know that sounds bit weird. But I swear, it was the greatest thing we ever got. Many babies are soothed by being bounced. It is exhausting to walk around with a baby all day trying to bounce your body up and down. Sitting on a ball & bouncing is so much easier. Our doulas taught us this great head bobble trick where you basically are gently rolling the baby's head in your palm while you bounce....worked like a charm! Definitely get a ball!

Slings. I wore our babies in slings from the very beginning and up until they were over 2 years old (and got too heavy to carry around). Not only did the babies seem to love it, but it allowed me to have at least one hand free to grocery shop, make lunch, push a stroller etc. Slings have been in the news as of late because if used improperly they can cause your baby to suffocate. It is EXTREMELY important to know how to use them the right way. Here in LA The Pump Station offers "sling clinics" to let you get you acquainted with all the types of carries they offer. Everyone has a different favorite. I loved the Hot Slings when the kids were really little and the  Maya Wrap as they got older.

Books and Toys. This is a category that is way too big for this blog post. Suffice it to say that you should have as many baby books as you can fit in your nursery and read to your children from day one. Hearing the sound of your voice and, over time, hearing the inflections you make when reading are an enormous part to their love of books as they get older. There are many websites to learn about great new books. One of the ones I really like is Chronicle Books. When the kids were really little I did my best to keep the plastic out. Its arrival is inevitable - just like the invasion of Disney into your house - but in the beginning I was optimistic and the kids were happy to play with the beautifully made (and beautiful to look at) toys from websites like Moolka and Oompa.

Swings/Exersaucers/Bouncers. Most parents I know find at least one, if not all, of these three items to be Godsends. Swings can be a wonderful way to get an otherwise cranky child to nap. Exersaucers and Bouncers, used in moderation, give mom a chance to take a break while her children are happily engaged and safe. We were very happy with, and got a lot of use out of, our Baby Einstein Exersaucer and Glider Swing. The Jumperoo we had is no longer available but this one is similar. Our son loved it so much, and looked so hilarious when he bounced in it, that we jokingly referred to him as "Lord of the Dance".

White Noise Machine. Many sleep experts and experienced parents will tell you that these machines work great. The noise supposedly replicates what the babies hear in utero, thus soothing them to sleep. For twins, it acts a bit as a noise barrier between cribs when one baby is crying and the other is sleeping. We had two different ones, but this basic one from Brookstone worked great. As the children got older they requested the "noise" be replaced with the "lullaby" music the machine plays. At over 3 years this item is still going strong.

There is so much that goes into raising your twins. So much thought, so much expense, so much love, so much research, so much gear, so much, so much. It is so easy to get overwhelmed or spend out of control so I think the most important thing is to approach readying your home with calm enthusiasm - if that is possible. Borrow where possible, accept hand-me-downs, find consignment shops and remember that loving, connected parents are what matters most; not the latest must-have toy.

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach


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Monday, May 24, 2010

Do Double Blessings Mean Double The Expense?

When my husband I got married, we knew early on that we would most likely need help getting pregnant. Having decided we needed ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), we knew that having children would already be more expensive for us than for most people. We were not lucky enough to have insurance that covered our treatments and had to pay out of pocket for everything. We were lucky that we only had to go through three rounds of IUI and got pregnant after one round of IVF. All of that luck cost us about $25,000.

One of the things that happens when you decide to use ART is that you begin to look at having children from the perspective of both a financial planner and a gambler. For example, at our clinic, the fee for IVF decreases based on how many rounds you pay for up front.  So, if you pay for three rounds, the cost for each round is less than if you buy each round one at a time. But, of course, should you get pregnant on round one (as we did) and have bought 2 or 3....that one round gets mighty expensive! So, when one gets pregnant with twins, the first thought is "Wow! How lucky! I got two for the price of one!". Because of the expense (and invasiveness) of these procedures, I would be surprised if there are many women who choose to implant only one embryo, if more are viable, knowing that they will have to go through it all again should that embryo not "take".

Two for the price of one. Yes, in some ways most of of us blessed with twins end up saving some money on only going through pregnancy, labor and delivery once. But, financially, there is so much to carrying, delivering and parenting multiples that I was completely ignorant about. Women pregnant with twins require a greater amount of prenatal care and many times end up on bed rest for at least a part of their pregnancy. I ended up having to stop working early in my pregnancy because I could no longer, physically, do my job. The risk of delivering prematurely is higher with multiples. Premature babies not only have the long stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) but often have more frequent doctors' visits afterwards (with 2 times the co-payments) and many have to see Physical and/or Occupational Therapists as well as any other specialists depending on their conditions. All of these doctors' visits add up. 

Once you bring the children home, I highly recommend having some sort of postpartum care available to you. No matter how well-prepared you think you are, you will be so grateful to have a well-rested, knowledgeable, non-hormonal person in your house to help out for as long as you can afford it. Other than family, the options range from baby nurses, nannies, night nurses and doulas. All of them will have their pros and cons, depending on what you are looking for. We decided to hire a doula and ended up hiring two and having 24 hour care for 3 weeks, then 10 hour a day help for the last week. It may sound like overkill to some; but to this first time mom, with no baby experience, no family near by, and a husband who had to go back to work after a few days, it sounded like a dream come true! I felt so well-prepared, so confident and so ready to take over when these two amazing women left our house after a month. It was perfect for us and it was VERY expensive. I estimate it cost around $10,000. 

So, now your babies are home. If one of you decides to stay home to raise the children, you ned to factor in the loss of income. If you both decide you need or want to work, there will be the cost of a nanny or day care. Many nannies who have twin experience charge more than nannies of singletons. For daycare, you are obviously paying for two spots. Then there is all of the baby gear you have to buy: bottles, diapers, cribs, highchairs, car seats etc, etc. All of it times two! I would also suggest putting some money aside for therapy for mom (or mom and dad)! Raising twins will put an enormous strain on even the happiest of couples.

Having made it past all of this, the thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was school. Preschool here in LA can be as expensive as my top-notch university was a few decades ago (and just about as hard to get into)!  And don't even get me started on how to pay for college!

So, you're expecting twins? It's time to get creative about how you're going to afford it. Here are some ideas that will hopefully get you thinking:
  • In lieu of a baby shower, ask friends and family who want to buy you gifts to create a "doula fund" instead. Explain to them how important it will be for you to have help after the birth. $5000 would be great.  $8 - $10K would be better. 
  • Get savvy about how having twins can save you money. There are a lot of companies who will give you discounts when you have multiples: Huggies, Gerber, Enfamil, Johnson and Johnson, Pampers and Preschoolians shoes are along them. It takes a little effort, some phone calls and sometimes a letter or two, but once you prove you actually have twins, you will save so much money on these very expensive items. Preschoolians actually has a 40% discount! Be sure to both call AND check the websites for these companies as sometimes there are different discounts offered in different places.
  • If you are wondering whether or not to breast feed, and all of the articles and research about its benefits haven't helped make up your mind, consider the amount of money you will save on formula. Additionally, the above mentioned postpartum help will also pay off because hiring a knowledgeable support person will increase your chances of breastfeeding success while decreasing your chances of having to rely upon formula.
  • Save money on buying cribs right away. A good, sturdy bassinet will be much less expensive, last a long while and the babies can sleep side by side until they begin rolling over (this can be as long as 4 or 5 months). One of my readers mentioned that she used the Graco Twin Pack N Play which has twin bassinets. Each bassinet can hold up to 15 pounds. When you are spending money left and right during the first few months, you will greatly appreciate the price tag of just around $170 for this sleep solution!
  • You do not actually NEED two of everything. Early on it is unlikely that both children will want to play with the same toy at the same time; buy one Jumperoo and one Exersaucer. Who has room for two of each of these anyway?
  • Look for opportunities in the community to share and exchange clothes, and especially high-ticket items like cribs and strollers. WLAPOM has a "preemie closet" which loans out clothes for members whose children are born prematurely and a clothing exchange for members with children of all ages. All mothers of multiples groups as well as Craig's List will have listings of gently used items. Do a little research and you will be shocked at your savings! 
  • Finding a consignment or re-sale shop in your area for these items is also a great place to start. A couple here in LA are: Show Me The Money BabyBluebird and LA Kids Consignment Sale.
  • If a class or a shop or a website doesn't say they offer a twins' (or sibling) discount, ask for it! You may not get a lot, but $20 here and $100 there add up. Money is money, I will take a savings where I can get it!
  • One of the more difficult things about affording preschool, private schools and college is that with twins you won't be able to stagger the tuition over a few years as most families with siblings of differing ages can. You will need to start saving as soon as possible. Among the many was to save, refinancing your mortgage (if you have one) to a 15-year mortgage is often one that is overlooked. By the time your twins are ready for college, you'll own your home free and clear. If need be, you will be able to borrow against the house in order to finance at least a large portion of their college tuition. 
  • There are many colleges which offer special funding for multiples. Many have restrictions on grade requirements, ACT/SAT scores and other provisions. Be sure to check with your school of choice on the most current information. For example, as of the writing of this post: George Washington University in Washington DC offers a 50% discount for a second sibling (not just twins), Notre Dame University offers the second twin 1/2 off tuition, Wilson College in Chambersburg , PA is an all female school that offers an annual scholarship for twins and triplets. It will pay 45% of each student's annual tuition. A little research goes a long way!
Sometimes it can get really overwhelming to think about the cost of having twins and it takes a kick in the butt to realize that there are actually so many you can actually save some money and still enjoy your babies. If you're pregnant now, instead of letting it get you down, look at it as a chance to start your children off well by taking a good, hard look at how you spend money. A few tweaks here and there will pay off huge in the long run!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

UCLA Lecture on Twins - A Summary

Last night I attended the Everything You Want To Know About Twins lecture at UCLA.  Having read Abigail Pogrebin’s book “One And The Same”, I was interested to hear from the panel of speakers she had put together – some of whom she had previously interviewed for her book.  It was an exciting blend of Scientists, Psychologists, Researchers, Authors, Twins, Parents of Twins and Psychotherapists of twins!  Each speaker was fascinated with twins for one reason or another, all had researched and worked with twins and twin-related issues for many, many years. And now all were one room, focusing on the science and psychology of identity.

What do we start with?  How much of who we are is shaped by parents, friends and teachers? How do genes and the environment shape our behavior? How are twins different on a molecular level and what does this have to do with sexual orientation and gender identity?  These were some of the questions that were posed and discussed.  I will try to summarize what each of the panelists spoke about for those of you unable to attend (forgive me, this might go long)!

Dr. Eric Vilain spoke first. Dr. Vilain is currently Professor of Human Genetics, Pediatrics, and Urology and Chief of Medical Genetics in Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. His research focuses on what makes boys and girls different from each other, and on the interplay between genes and environment that ultimately determines sex. 

Dr. Vilain’s discussion was fascinating and sometimes, quite frankly, over my head.  I was never terribly good at Science in school I must confess.  However, one of the parts I found most interesting (and understandable) was his topic of gender identity and sexual orientation.  He began by stating that in sets of identical twins when one is gay, more than 50% of their co-twins are straight. In sets of fraternal twins, this number drops dramatically. His theory is then that sexual orientation and gender identity is, perhaps, not 100% genetic as identical twins have the same DNA make up. He also mentioned that if you study 100 gender non-conforming boys you will find that they will turn out to be 100 gay men.  However, if you study 100 gay men you will not necessarily find that all of them were gender non-conforming as children.

He then went on to discuss environmental factors that modify the DNA behavior or the "epigenome". Epigenetics is not something I can clearly write about but from what I gathered during the evening and what I understand by Googling it, it is the study of heritable traits (over rounds of cell division and sometimes transgenerationally) that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence.

Dr. Vilain's way of translating that science-speak was to ask us to imagine a Barbie Doll.  When Barbie is happy she might wear clothes that are sparkly but when she is sad, she would wear all black. Thus, the underlying structure is the same, but the expression is modified. Identical twins have a measurable difference in their epigenome.  Twins are more similar when they are very young versus when they are very old.  Scientists don’t know why but suspect there may be environmental differences.

The next speaker was Dr. Thomas Mack who is currently Professor of Preventative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC). He is also the author of the International Twin Registry, a continent-wide series of comparisons between patients with chronic diseases and their unaffected twins, and the California Twin Program, an analogous program of studies among twins who differ in lifestyle or personal exposures and experiences.

Dr. Mack spoke mainly about his research and how the study of twins (particularly identical twins) has yielded amazing information in the field of various illnesses. One of the things that was most interesting to me was that among the questions asked of the twins in the study were ones formulated to be able to understand which had more exposure to germs.  Thus: “who sucked their thumb more?” or “Who was always putting things in their mouth?” were asked because exposure to different viruses at a young age helps protect the body as you grow older. One of  Dr. Mack’s theories is that twins who differ in terms of diseases may have epigenetic differences in terms of environmental exposure, smoking differences, dietary differences and so forth.  One of his studies he discussed was one in which he found that in the Northern part of the US 25% of twin Multiple Sclerosis patients became concordant over time but in the South only 5% became concordant.  Dr. Mack’s resulting theory is that the environmental difference of more exposure to sunlight and Vitamin D was a factor in this.   

Dr. Laura Baker was next to speak. Dr. Baker is currently Professor of Psychology at USC, where she coordinates the Southern California Twin Register and directs a comprehensive, longitudinal study of over 750 sets of twins in a study of genetic and environmental influences in aggressive and antisocial behavior.  She has a longstanding interest in how nature and nurture shape individual differences in human behavior, and has published numerous articles based on both twin and adoption studies.  

Her twin study created a true paradigm shift in realizing that genes play a huge role in psychological traits such as expression, aggression, happiness and so forth.  In fact, she stated that 90% of variation in aggressive behavior is due to genetic influence. For those of us with children whose level of aggression fluctuates, she pointed out that there is a “set point” for subjective well-being (basically that means you have a set point at which your body is comfortable – like with weight – and you will fluctuate above and below that point).  The fact that aggression and temperament is so largely genetic was made very clear later in the evening when a mother of triplets stood up to ask about her identical daughters who “hated each other” and could only get along with their fraternal triplet brother.  The mother had tried everything from therapy to separate schools to separate activities. Dr. Baker reiterated that sometimes it is just in one’s genetic make up that you are not going to mesh with another person. However, most of the panel did agree that this case was very unusual in that it is usually the identicals who bond and shut out other siblings.

The discussion then moved on with Dr. Nancy Segal who is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of Twin Studies Center, at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).  She is also the author of "Indivisible By Two: Lives of Extrodinary Twins” (which I bought and will tell you what I think of when I am finished with it) and "Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior”.  Dr. Segal is currently writing another book about the true story of twins who were separated at birth.  One was mistakenly raised as a singleton and the other was raised with an unrelated child as a pair of fraternal twins.  As a mother of twins myself I can only imagine the devastation that must have caused!

Throughout her research Dr. Segal notes that identical twins who have been separated all or most of their lives connect immediately when reunited and report feeling closer to their twin that they just met, than to the adoptive siblings they have shared their life with.  She also noted that parents of identical twins are often so sensitive to the differences in personalities that they often misdiagnose them as fraternal twins!

Next on the panel was Dr. Joan Friedman. She is the author of the wonderful book “Emotionally Healthy Twins: A New Philosophy for Parenting Two Unique Children”.  Dr. Friedman is also a psychotherapist here in Santa Monica and specializes in twins and parenting issues of twins.  She also facilitates groups for mothers of twins and writing a new book about adult twins and attachment experiences.

Dr. Friedman spoke primarily about her belief that parents must give their twins the right to feel ambivalence or anger about their twinship.  To force the fantasy of your children being best friends and loving that they are twins 100% of the time is unwise and unrealistic. She is a very firm believer in letting twins separate and develop their personalities and interests as two individuals. She also made the very strong point that the boom in multiples has created an enormous need for therapists well versed in the emotional and psychological needs of not just young twins, but for all of the twins who have now reached adulthood and middle age as well as parents and siblings of these multiples.  She said she is constantly receiving calls for referrals to therapists from all over the US and Europe and there are so few people who have chosen to specialize in this area. So, for all you therapists and therapists in training: here is a niche waiting to be filled!

Next to speak was Dr. Eileen Pearlman who is a liscenced Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica and the Director of Twinsight, a service specifically designed to meet the particular needs of multiple births and their families.  She is also the co-author of "Raising Twins: What Parents Want to Know (and What Twins Want to Tell Them)” which I also bought last night and will post about as soon as I am finished.

Dr. Pearlman discussed the separation individuation process which is essentially when the infant begins to realize it is separate from its mother.  She brought up the point that with multiples, the infants must learn to not only individuate from parents, but also from their twin.  She described this “bumping up” process as the “No!” phase when a child is separating from the parent (to every question the answer is “no” – we probably all know this well) and the “Mine”” phase when individuating from their twin (also something we are all familiar with). Twins have to “bump up” against each other throughout their lives and that it is vitally important that they discover who is “me” in addition to knowing who are “we”.

There was only time for a few questions at the end.  I mentioned the question about the triplets earlier. Another question that was asked was how to best help an older sibling bond with her new twin sisters.  Both Dr. Friedman and Dr. Pearlman brought up the points that a) one must work hard to make sure that the formerly singleton child is allowed to bond with each of the twins separately and b) that the parents recognize that it is very hard to be “dethroned” as an only child but it can be exponentially more so when the new child is a set of twins.

The last question was a truly fascinating one for me (especially since I conceived our twins through IVF).  A woman asked if there was a difference between those created naturally and those created through the use of fertility drugs.  Dr. Vilain mentioned that there is a small chance of epigenetic changes with IVF and that women over the age of 37 are 4 times more likely to have fraternal twins. I wish there had been more time for questions and answers, but all in all, the evening was very informative and left me excited to learn more!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sometimes The Day is LONG!

So, I'm a SAHM. I feel very lucky that I am able to choose that option. I get to see the kids as much as I want and am able to give them all of my love and attention. I know they are safe, I know they aren't eating McDonald's, I know they're doing something creative each day, I know all of the ins and outs of their day so when they make some vague reference to something they saw 3 weeks ago, I am the one who knows exactly what they are talking about. All of this together time is great.  And it's completely EXHAUSTING

There are days when I just want to cry because I am so worn out. Lack of sleep, constant whining, non-stop arguing or just that I want five minutes to myself to go to the bathroom without company, all can contribute to my wanting to tear my hair out. And then my children will do something ridiculously sweet and I will melt and forget all of the above and just remember that I love them. And then the cycle will start all over again.  Such is the nature of being a stay at home mom.

One of the hardest part to being a SAHM for me was being cooped up in the house for days on end. WIth twins it can be especially hard because as soon as your kids get the slightest bit bored or jealous, the fighting starts. It can be incredibly hard to plan a full day in the house with two little ones and you may find that the best way to deal with it is to think like a daycare or preschool director: work out a schedule for the day so that it doesn't feel so endless. Start with a little free play, move on to circle time with some songs or stories, try to get outside to burn off a little energy and create a change of scenery. Depending on your child's age, you may need to change activities every 15 or 20 minutes until you hit on something that will keep them busy for long stretches (thank you, Legos)! Throw in a few snacks and a few meals and before you know it, you've got a full day of fun! 

A few months ago my children decided they didn't need to nap anymore. It was a very sad day for me. I delayed it for as long as I could but finally I realized their naps were actually making their night time sleep worse (and thus, my night time sleep was worse). SO, now I have two three-year olds who don't nap and who wake at 6:30 in the morning.  It can be a VERRRRRY long day when it's not broken up by school or play dates or their nanny taking them somewhere. I figured that some of you may have similar issues, or your children may not yet be in school, or you may not have regular help you can count on, so I thought I would post a list of some creative things to entertain your little ones that you may not already be doing. 
  • Gardening - If you don't have outdoor space, maybe you have room for some pots and planters inside or on a deck. Buy some soil, seeds or small trays of colorful flowers and a planter box for each of them.  Take them with you to pick the plants out. Target always has great kid's gardening stuff by Spring time, or we got this adorable set as a gift for the kids' birthday. Our children particularly love flowers and anything scented, like rosemary. Don't forget a watering can - that's the best part (and it's even fun in the bath)!
  • Get Artistic - Painting might be our daughter's favorite thing to do. If you have a space to close off where you can cover everything with old sheets or towels, this is best so that you don't worry about the kids messing up your house! Aaron Bros. has inexpensive canvases in bulk, and non-toxic paints and paintbrushes - put old clothes on and let them go! When our kids were too young to really be able to use a paintbrush we had a blast finger painting or using rollers and stamps. Clean up is not easy, but on a warm day you could put them in one of those steel buckets and hose them off outside - (more fun). If it's warm outside, get some water and big paintbrushes and "paint" with the water on the concrete or on rolls of brown craft paper - this is really great for mom because it's not messy, and great for the kids who see first hand the effects of evaporation and that they can paint over and over again as the water dries. Alternately, getting washable ink stamp pads and different shaped stamps at a place like Lakeshore Learning is a paint-free way to create some "art". The other less messy way to create art at our house was to do something we called "sticky art".  Again, Lakeshore (or a craft store) has packages of small, stiff cardboard sheets that are super sticky on one side.  I bought a bunch of crafty things like feathers, pom poms, buttons, sparkly gems etc (you can also do it for free by collecting leaves, flat stones, cut outs from magazines etc.) and set them each out in bowls for the kids to create their art with. If you're interested in being crafty with the kids but aren't necessarily full of ideas, you have to check out this fantastic blog a friend of mine writes called "My Submarine To The Future". For example, check out this post about making paper houses!
  • Treasure hunts - Whether your kids like to play pirates or not, a treasure hunt is always a fun thing to do in the house or yard.  Draw a map of your house, make about a dozen copies (so you have them for next time) and hide small things (little items from the 99¢ store or the dollar bin at Target make great "treasures"). Mark your map where treasures might be hidden. To make it more interesting I hide very easy riddles that will help guide them to the next location (ie: "look in the place where Mommy and Daddy sleep to find the next clue"). Obviously, this takes a little preparation so it would have to be done while the children are out of the house or asleep. 
  • Nature Walks - This is a variation on our Treasure Hunts.  Take the kids for a stroll around the neighborhood (assuming where you live is easy to wander about with two little ones) and have a list of things to look for that you know you'll run into.  For us it's things like: Magnolia leaves (we have Magnolia trees out front), dandelions, purple flowers (our neighbor's bushes are covered with them....shhhh, don't tell them we sometimes pick them), etc. etc. Then you can bring them home and press flowers in a book or do "sticky art" or some other type of creative masterpiece. Another alternative way to do a "hunt" is while on your favorite daily outings — a walk around the neighborhood, a stroll along the beach — gather things (if permitted by the park) to help both of you remember why you like a particular place. You might bring along a camera and start snapping away; your child may choose to pick up a really beautiful leaf or a special seashell. Once you're home, help your child decorate a shoebox with construction paper, crayons, glitter, or anything else that makes it unique. Keep both of your collections inside. You might have several different boxes for each outing. On rainy days, snuggle up on the couch with your child and sift through the box. Chances are you'll be able to relive your favorite outings as you dig through the treasures.
  • Cook - Baking cookies is always something my kids like to do. But, even better (especially if you're my son who's favorite phrase of the moment is "that's disGUSting!") is to make "Icky Stew". You waste a lot of baking soda and vinegar, but it might be worth it to get an hour of peace. Break out the big bowls and wooden spoons with baking soda, vinegar, a pitcher of water, cocoa powder, and anything else that they can put in the "icky stew" and that keeps them entertained for a long time. The vinegar and baking soda make bubbles and the rest is just for color and for the fun of adding "ingredients." Be sure to wear old clothes and cover the floor where you'll be working - it can make a bit of a mess.
  • Take a bubble bath - Yes, I know...you would probably like to just get in a bath and relax, but this one is just for the kids. Sometimes when our kids are especially crazy a bath not only fills the time, but it also calms them down. We use bubble blowers, bathtub crayons, any fun bathtub toys. I especially love all the Alex bath toys and the Corolle bath baby dolls are nice because they dry out quickly and you don't have to worry about mold growing inside if you've forgotten to squeeze all the water out! A good bath can last an hour some days and, bonus, baths are done! Once out of the tub, keep the bubble magic going (you can make your own bubble solution by mixing one part dishwashing detergent with ten parts water, and a little glycerin or corn syrup to make the bubbles hold) and see what you can find in the house to make bubbles with. Your children can use almost any open-ended object to make bubbles, including the rings from a six-pack of soda or a clothes hanger (with sharp ends bent back for safety). Try making bigger and bigger bubbles, but be careful they don't drink the solution! 
  • Explore the universe - We recently took the kids to The Griffith Observatory after getting this great globe as a gift for the kids. These two things sparked not only interest in animals around the world, but also a lot of talk about planets, rockets, space and so forth. One night I decided to try this game I had heard about called Earth and Moon. Arm yourselves with a flashlight and a laser pointer (warn your child never to aim the laser pointer directly in anyone's eye; it can damage the retina), and lie face up on the bed in a dark room. Make the Earth, or the flashlight beam, move in large circles around the ceiling. Your child's job is to keep the moon (the laser pointer) orbiting the Earth. Start by moving the Earth slowly, speeding it up as the game continues, to challenge your child to continue his moon's orbit. My kids will play with a flashlight for ages so this game is a hit over here. You may have to get two laser pointers to avoid impatience in waiting turns. To make this even more fun, I used a large box I had gotten after getting a shipment from Diapers.com and turned it into a rocket ship. It totally doesn't matter if you're artistic - just get a box that's big enough and cut out a door and a window or two. Let the kids join in with decorating it with washable markers or whatever else you have around. If you want to buy a cardboard rocket because it is more esthetically pleasing, this is a great one and the kids can decorate it as well. Get into your rocket and tell a story about where you're going!
It's a lot of work entertaining your children in the house, so I always like to have lists and lists of ideas that I can pull out when they are making me nuts. Personally, I like to get out of the house as much as possible. For me, it is more stimulating and I love that the kids get to experience so much the city has to offer. But there are days when it's just not possible. I hope this little list helps a bit the next time you're stuck indoors and are feeling like you will jump out a window if you have to play Princess Tea Party again!

If you've got some great indoor activities your family loves, please share them with us!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Parenting Seminar on Secure Attachment

There is a fascinating all day seminar at The Skirball Center coming up on Saturday, June 5th.  If you're unfamiliar with attachment theory, the central theme of it is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to their infant's needs establish a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world. The Skirball describes the seminar:

"In this compelling seminar, spend a day at the Skirball to hear the latest thinking on attachment theory from leading experts in the field. Gain specific knowledge that can immediately help with the challenges of raising children today and provide a strong foundation for their future. Find out how healthy attachment incorporates the ability to separate from our children and help them transition to secondary caregivers. Discover what to look for when choosing day-care and school environments.

Designed for parents, expectant parents, and potential parents, the program includes two keynote lectures, lunchtime discussions, and a series of afternoon workshops."

The speakers and workshop leaders sound pretty terrific.  Among them are:
Keynote speaker Mary Hartzell, MEd, who is a child development specialist, parent educator, and co-author with Dan Siegel of the amazing book "Parenting From The Inside Out". She is also the director of the nationally recognized, Reggio-inspired First Presbyterian Nursery School, Santa Monica, and has taught children, parents, and teachers for more than thirty years.

Many of you already know Betsy Brown Braun.  She is a a child development and behavior specialist, parent educator, multiple birth parenting consultant, and best-selling author of a book called "Just Tell Me What To Say".  She has also just written another called "You're Not The Boss Of Me" subtitled: Brat-proofing your 4- to 12-year-old child.  Hmmmm.  I may need to buy that one!

Betsy is also a mother of adult triplets and will be facilitating a workshop entitled: TRIANGULAR ATTACHMENT The Expanded Attachment of Multiples. This workshop will explore the ways in which twins, triplets, and higher-order multiples experience attachment to parents and to one another, as we look at how their unique relationships can work for and against them.

These are just two of the many speakers and workshop leaders. Please check out the full list and description of the day here.

You can register for the seminar and the particular workshops you want by clicking here.  The seminar is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and costs $60 ($50 for Skirball members).

I plan to attend; I hope you will too  Let me know if you do!
-Gina
p.s. if you haven't taken your kids to Noah's Ark at the Skirball you are MISSING OUT!
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