I pulled up and parked in my favorite lot: the side mall entrance. There were usually plenty of spots available, especially mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. A couple of afternoons a month I would take the twins, then babies, to the mall to walk around. If I timed nursing just right I would have about an hour and a half to spend there. Fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back meant I would return home in time to nurse them again. (Because nursing twins in public is a whole other level of stress, y’all.)
The mall was the perfect spot to stretch my legs while I pushed the stroller, especially with the chilly spring weather outside. I liked to look at the sale racks at JCrew and Banana Republic, though we didn’t really have the money to buy anything. Instead, I’d treat myself to a consolation pretzel (cinnamon sugar) and lemonade from Auntie Anne’s, then sit on a bench and hope the babies wouldn’t cry because we’d stopped moving.
On this particular Tuesday, I hauled the frame for the double stroller out of the trunk of our Prius, released one carseat and strapped it in, then another. I threw the overstuffed diaper bag over my shoulder and headed to the entrance, pushing the handicap button to let us in.
I pushed it again, harder this time. And again, at a slightly different angle.
The door didn’t budge. I stared at the door to the mall entrance, now my enemy. I shoved the diaper bag higher up on my shoulder and pulled the door open, balancing it with my legs splayed while I pulled the double stroller inside. Once in the vestibule I pushed the button for the interior door. It didn’t move, either. I glared at the second door. We were basically trapped since the in-line double-stroller took up the entire entry from door to door. I sucked in my stomach, moved around the stroller as best I could, and managed to open the door a few inches before it hit a stroller wheel. I scooched and inched my way in, wiggling first the stroller, then the door, until we made it inside.
I pushed my hair out of my face and looked around at the bright lights inside the department store as I caught my breath. My enthusiasm for this outing had waned during the whole door debacle. I was startled when I realized a woman stood next to the rack of shirts beside us, staring down and smiling at me and the babies.
“Twins?” she asked sweetly, “I don’t know how you do it!”
Well, I thought, I sure could’ve used a hand with the door. Had she been there the whole time? I felt annoyed at her, at the malfunctioning doors, at the fact that no one had come to my rescue. Bothered that she probably wanted to stop and coo at the babies, taking up my precious non-nursing time.
I’m sure I gave her a faint smile, though I know I had absolutely no response. I heard this often. And every time the answer that popped into my head was because I have to.
"So what's it like to have twins?" is something I’ve been asked dozens of times. It’s diminished over the years, after we added a third to the mix and I was no longer accompanied everywhere by two babies in carseats. More often now I’m asked if my kids are triplets.
I never knew how to answer the question. What is life with twins like? I have no idea. Exhausting, I guess? I might as well ask you what life with one baby is like since that’s something I’ve never known. The concept of one baby is as foreign to me as multiples is to everyone else.
I would usually shrug, give a little laugh, and say something like, "Well, it's all we've ever known!" Or, the ever-vague answer of “busy!” Which was true, if not detailed.
However the conversation went, it was often followed up with the whole “I don’t know how you do it!” thing. I got it from everyone: grandparents, baristas, friends’ spouses. I never knew what to say to this, either.
And maybe I never needed to say anything. Maybe my postpartum hormones were working in overdrive while my sleep-deprived brain tried to make sense of the process of engaging in adult conversation. But every time I heard, “I don’t know how you do it!”, it bothered me. It implied I had a choice.
And what choice did I have? Quitting my job was non-negotiable, for starters. There was no money to put two babies into daycare when the cost of daycare would have eaten up my entire paycheck. Then there was the state of my mental health - I couldn’t wrap my head around working all day and coming home to (literally) take care of two babies all night. When you factored in the cost of formula, disposable diapers, take-out, and the value of both Tyson’s and my mental stability, the decision was clear.
At night when one woke up to nurse, so did the other. Neither Tyson or I had a choice then. He would rock a baby while I nursed the second. We were the definition of two ships passing in the night while we wore a path in the upstairs carpet, each walking back and forth with a fussy baby, sometimes for hours at a time. While friends of ours bemoaned having to trade shifts at night and couldn’t get more than a three-hour stretch of sleep with their one baby, I bit my tongue. The idea of “shifts” didn’t exist in our house. If one was up, everyone was up.
After the very early days of pure survival, I began to leave the apartment again. By the time they were three months old, this was a necessity. I couldn’t breathe in our tiny space day after day. “I don’t know how you do it!” people would say when I showed up to a social outing with two babies in tow. Do you really expect me to stay home all the time? I would think.
Lest I sound ungrateful, I do realize this was intended as a compliment. It just always seemed so vague. “You’re such a good mom to those babies!” would have been more helpful - at the very least it would have been an easier compliment to respond with a smile and a “thank you”.
The thing was, I didn’t really want people to say anything to me when I was out with the twins. Anytime I was stopped I could only think this person was taking up the precious little time I had without a baby attached to my breast. What I wanted more than anything was help. I craved acknowledgement, to be seen. For people to understand that this was hard. That’s what they were saying to me after all. “I don’t know how you do it...because it’s so hard” is what was implied each and every time.
But I didn’t want them to wonder how I did it. I wanted them to let me go ahead of them in the checkout line. I wanted them to ask how they could help, not just wonder aloud at how hard my life must be with two small babies to care for.
I didn’t want them to wonder how I was able to nurse two babies. I wanted them to entertain one while I nursed their sibling at the library.
I didn’t want my friends to wonder how I got out the door for a playdate. I wanted them to pick up an iced vanilla latte for me on the way.
I didn’t want a stranger to marvel at my ability to get through the door. I wanted them to hold the damn door.
Hearing “I don’t know how you do it,” taught me what I actually needed - what any mother needs in a difficult stage in her life.
She needs someone to give her a gift card for coffee when the toddler melts down in the middle of aisle 11.
She needs someone to watch her kids for a couple of hours so she can take a nap.
She needs someone to drop off dinner on Thursday evening, just because she’s a mom of young kids and it’s Thursday.
She needs someone to say “let me help you with that” while she loads bag after bag of groceries in the minivan while also herding small children to their carseats.
She needs someone to give her a nod and a smile, just a little bit of encouragement to get through the day.
She doesn’t need anyone to wonder how she does the work of nursing, changing diapers, sweeping up crumbs, tackling mountains of laundry, and getting up night after fussy night. We’re mothers.
It’s what we do.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on "Rewriting the Script."