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To the Mom Terrified of Having Irish Twins

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You’ve just given birth. You are so in love with this tiny person who consumes every second of your time and attention. The sleep deprivation you are facing makes the late-night college studying look like a week in Cancun. You are happy, but your days (and nights) are so FULL. You are trying to figure out how to balance being both a good wife and a good mother. Your body is just starting to recover from childbirth, and you are trying to make peace with your new shape. You may have had severe morning sickness or a traumatic delivery – something that makes you glad you are on the “other side” of the past 9 months. You hope to have more babies someday, but it’s not really on the radar right now – you just had one! And you are tapped. out.

The thought of being pregnant a month or two after having a baby sends most women into a panic. Nurses and midwives will warn you that “Your body needs a year to heal after giving birth and BREASTFEEDING DOES NOT PREVENT PREGNANCY!!!!” as they shove a birth control prescription in your hand. (And they’re not exactly wrong about breastfeeding – sometimes it doesn’t.) Plenty of faithful Catholics have been tempted into using contraception temporarily just to ensure a little bit of spacing. I recall a friend revealing to me that she believed that contraception was wrong, but used it anyway because she was so scared to get pregnant again “too soon.”

pregtestWhat are most of our concerns based on? Fear. Fear of physical damage; fear of being even more overwhelmed. Fear of losing what is left of our free time. Fear of scarring our children because they didn’t have enough time to “be the baby.” Fear of what people will think of us. (Ooh, this is a big one. “You know what causes that, right?” is people’s attempt to be humorous while implying that you are too dumb to control your reproduction. And pregnancies less than 3 months apart? That means you’re riding the crazy train. To most of the world, it screams pretty loudly “WE DON’T USE BIRTH CONTROL!” But even to non-contracepting, NFP-loving folks, the idea of Irish twins is pretty foreign. Some NFP advocates insist that a certain arbitrary spacing is ideal, or even necessary, in order to keep your marriage healthy, parent properly/attachment parent, keep your body healthy.)

And do you know what? Those fears are legitimate. If we had a glimpse of the Eternal Plan, we would see that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), but in our very narrow view of our life, we don’t always know what the future holds. We know our own weaknesses. And so we are afraid we can’t handle it.

If you find yourself expecting again soon after giving birth, some of the random thoughts that might cross your mind are not limited to the following:

How can I handle 2 babies at once? Won’t my older child feel neglected? He’s still a baby himself! How can I carry two kids around? Can my body handle two pregnancies so close together? Will I have to wean my older baby now that I’m pregnant? Am I going to have a baby every year for the rest of my life? Some of your concerns may be even more serious – I was hoping for a VBAC; am I going to need another C-section? Am I going to experience the same pregnancy complications the second time around?

motherteresaBut first – take a deep breath. Know that God has destined you to be the mother of THIS child. He knows your weaknesses and your faults, your concerns and your fears. But still, He has chosen you. Rest for a moment knowing that in His plan of Divine Providence, He knows what is best for your soul and another baby is it. He knows who will be the best mother for this baby, and she is you.

(I often dislike when people say “But look at all your blessings!” when things are hard, because they still don’t mitigate the sting of our crosses, and sometimes our blessings come with crosses attached. But it has been helpful to me to remember to offer up any of my pregnancy-related woes for women struggling with infertility or recurring miscarriages, who so long for another baby to hold. Why have God given these children to me while allowing another woman to continuously feel the sting of empty arms? Just dwelling on that for a little bit has really helped me to appreciate my little crosses-in-the-midst-of-blessings. Sometimes, the best way to realize how fortunate we are is to will ourselves to be grateful, even during trials. And sometimes we need a gentle reminder of that.)

To the specific questions: You may have to switch to formula. You might have 2 babies who need to be carried everywhere for a while. Your chance of pre-term labor goes up slightly, and your body may be achier with your second pregnancy. You may have some crazy nights; you may have two babies not sleeping through the night at once (I had 3 blissful weeks of my older baby STTN before my younger one was born.) You may experience more pregnancy complications the second time around (I was very blessed that the pre-eclampsia I had with my first did not present itself with my second.) It may be a harder pregnancy. All legitimate concerns, absolutely.

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I found out I was pregnant when my oldest was 12 weeks old. My newborn didn’t sleep well at night. (do they ever?) I spent every afternoon on the couch with nausea and exhaustion while he napped in the baby swing next to me. I kept crackers by my bed to eat in the middle of the night when I got up 8 times feed him. Sometimes it was 10 times. Some of the earlier days with a baby and a young toddler were a blur.

Now, my Irish twins are 5 and 4. The older is studious and loves numbers and words, telling time, calendars, calculators, writing. He is not the biggest conversationalist; he likes to be on a schedule and doesn’t enjoy spontaneity or getting dirty. The younger loves to talk, to tell stories and ask questions, to draw pictures, to be read to, make up stories, to help cook. He wears costumes and hats, and his creativity knows no bounds. These boys are total opposites, but they are the best of friends. They push each other out of their comfort zones. They learn about the virtues of patience and kindness through each other. I can honestly say that they are the best thing that ever happened to each other.

If you are struggling through a pregnancy right now, planned or unexpected, long-awaited or a complete shock, God will give you the grace you need to persevere. In the words of St. Gianna Molla, “Our task is to live holy in the present moment.” And as our beloved Papa Benedict said, “You were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.” Allow these two thoughts to inspire you and to give you hope. You’ve got this, mama. I’m cheering you on.

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{This post is not intended in any way to shame anyone or to make light of serious medical reasons for postponing pregnancy. All pregnancies and all situations are different. I’m not here to convince you that you need very-closely-spaced babies. I simply want to reassure you that if you do end up having babies in rapid succession, you are not dumb or irresponsible. You are not bad at NFP. You are not crazy. You should not feel ashamed of your openness to life. Do not obsess about the future – focus on the NOW, the baby in your arms and in your belly, not the future you who might possibly have 18 children spaced 11 months apart (but probably not.)}

 

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About Colleen

Colleen is wife to her wonderful husband and mama to three boys and three girls. She spends her days reading stories, practicing skip counting, and sweeping Cheerios with a baby in her arms. She enjoys sharing her Catholic Faith with others, and trying her best to live out her vocation generously, graciously, fully. She loves the Traditional Mass. She also appreciates anything crafty or chocolatey, and is blessed to reside in the great state of Kansas, which actually is not all black-and-white – she has the red shoes to prove it.

  • Jaclyn - I feel for women who experience Irish twins. I can’t imagine a more difficult, exhausting path to motherhood! However, I feel sometimes that when women are reminded that breastfeeding doesn’t prevent pregnancy, we neglect to tell them about the difference between cultural and ecological breastfeeding. When I was taught NFP, there was a whole chapter in our book on this. Ecological breastfeeding, which is nursing on demand, round the clock, without the use of pacifiers or bottles or hours of separation from baby. I understand this sounds very demanding to women in our culture who are used to more independence and freedom than this practice allows, but I fear that openness to life without including the practice of ecological breastfeeding leads to more closely spaced births that can contribute to overwhelmed mothers. God designed our bodies in a beautiful, wondrous way, including the ability to more reliably space babies than most breastfeeding American women currently experience.September 30, 2014 – 7:13 amReplyCancel

  • Maureen - I was 19 months old when my mother had my sister and then not even a year later she had my brother. So they are Irish twins. My parents went on to have four more after my brother. By the time I was 10 there were 7 of us.
    My sister and brother were and are still the best of friends. They have been there for each other and have helped one another. My sister went through a very hard time when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. All of us siblings and our spouses (those who were married at the time) rallied around and helped her through this hard time. Though there was not a bone marrow donor amongst us there was a generous soul on the marrow list. My sister is now 13 yrs out from the transplant.
    My mother and father always treated each of us as individuals but this pair of siblings always thought of each other as a special gift as their friend. They were also in the same grade and year all through school.September 30, 2014 – 9:14 amReplyCancel

  • Sally Morgan - Jaclyn, you are so right. Lactational amennorhea is a very real means of child spacing. There is a woeful lack of understanding of how to use breastfeeding to delay ovulation yet it is so doable and rewarding both in the long term and short term. This steps are simple–mother baby togetherness, no pacifiers, bottles or supplements for 6 months. Nurture at the breast, no limits on frequency or duration. Sleep with your baby, take them with you wherever you go. I did this for each of my 5 children and experienced between 18 and 24 months without return of fertility. Radical? not really. Unconventional? perhaps. My children are now between 14 and 24 years . during the 12 years or so that I had a nursing baby with me at all times it just became so normal to me that the idea that if I was going somewhere the baby was going too was assumed. I had 28 years of baby free life before I had kids and now at 53 I am also free to do many things sans kids. I encourage other mothers to try it. I had only about 5 menstrual cycles in 12 years between pregnancies and nursing. It was good for my marriage and my body. I am a retired LLL(14 years) and an IBCLC since 1990. With the right information breastfeeding can space babies.September 30, 2014 – 11:02 amReplyCancel

  • Mary - It seems like there is an automatic assumption that women who have Irish twins (or otherwise closely-spaced births), such as the author of this post, are “cultural breastfeeders,” spending a lot of time away from their babies and putting them on schedules. The truth, however, is that ecological breastfeeding is not possible for all mothers, and more importantly, it does not work to delay the return of fertility for all mothers who try it. Some women nurse ’round the clock and still get their periods back quite early. I think the toxin- and hormone- laden environment that we live in has disrupted the normal effects that breastfeeding is supposed to have on fertility.September 30, 2014 – 12:14 pmReplyCancel

  • Jera - Even when ecological breast feeding is practiced to the letter, it does not always work. So be careful of ASSUMING that women who have Irish Twins or closely spaced pregs are “doing it wrong.” I’ve had 8 children in 11 years, and I’ve breast fed most of then right up until a few weeks before the next one was born. I baby-wear, nurse on demand around the clock, co-sleep, and haven’t typically introduced bottles or paci’s until AFTER my period has already returned, if at all. Believe me, I’d LOVE to have 18-24 mos of no menses after each baby. I don’t even have quite that spread btwn most of my kids!!September 30, 2014 – 12:43 pmReplyCancel

  • Colleen - @Jaclyn – I think having “real” twins would be much more exhausting! 😉 (I haven’t done that so I can’t say for sure, though.)

    I think it is wonderful when people learn about the benefits of ecological breastfeeding. Just in my own experience and in talking to many women with similar experience as mine, I think there are a lot of reasons why it doesn’t necessarily space babies for EVERYONE. Either a) there is some reason they simply can’t EBF “correctly” according to all 7 standards, whether that is health issues of the mother, health concerns of the baby (extended NICU, cleft palate, failure to thrive, etc), mom works or is otherwise unable to be with baby 100% of the time, or b) they DO EBF according to the standard, but for whatever reason, their body still experiences a return of fertility earlier than average. (That was the case with me, the first time around especially. My babies never leave my side 🙂 )

    I think it is easy for women to feel like they are “doing something wrong,” or even to stress about the fact that they have a good sleeper, which is so crazy when you think about it! Really, I think God allows it to be different for everyone and some people are the “exception to the rule” because it is part of His plan that not all families will look the same.September 30, 2014 – 12:49 pmReplyCancel

  • Cassie S. - Colleen, I love this. This is so me. I haven’t officially had “Irish twins” but I’ve had babies only 16 and 17 months apart. After John (#6) was born last December, I found out in July that I was expecting again and these two babies were only going to be 15 months apart – my closest ever!!!!! Oh the panic and so many of these thoughts that you just wrote about. And then…..a miscarriage just a few weeks ago. This totally put things into perspective for me. I realized that I did want that baby after all. I pray that I never take these sweet little ones, even if close together, for granted again! Thanks be to God for them all, and all the crosses and bits of sweetness they bring with them!September 30, 2014 – 7:17 pmReplyCancel

  • Amy - I have practiced ecological breastfeeding with all my children and tandem nursed 3 times, yet my cycle returns on average at about 8 weeks postpartum. I know so many women that ecological breastfeeding did not postpone their fertility from returning. I also know women who didn’t follow all the guidelines for ecological breastfeeding, yet had 24 months of infertility. We have to be careful when talking about ecological breastfeeding to tell women that it can provide for natural spacing, but it doesn’t always. In the beginning, I was very discouraged that even though I did everything “right”, it wasn’t a successful way to space babies for me. We just had our 9th baby (and 3 losses) in 15 years. We have no regrets and a house full of beautiful children 🙂October 1, 2014 – 10:48 amReplyCancel

    • Martina Kreitzer - Amy,

      You hit the nail on the head. I know people on both ends of the spectrum as you explained. My mind keeps coming back to whether God is at the center of those decisions {to space, to TTC, etc.}. For those who are proponents of ecological breastfeeding – as long as God gets primary input on family planning – the rest really doesn’t matter, and it ceases to be about something that “works” but more importantly, whether we are discerning with an openness to God’s plan. 🙂October 1, 2014 – 12:20 pmReplyCancel

  • Mrs. C. - As an Irish triplet, I ecologically-breastfed my first before I ever read about it +went 14 months w/o cycles. I was amazed. It’s true that eco-breastfeeding may not space babies for all women. Scientific studies have been done +they show that there is a “bell-curve”. Some moms who “do it right” will have cycles return early; it is not anything “bad” if they do return. A nursing mom can still be looking for spotting and/or mucus to return +start charting temps w/abstaining if serious reason exists to avoid pregnancy. Baby-carrying is not necessary as originally defined by Sheila Kippley, whose latest book can help moms decide for themselves whether they are truly eco-breastfeeding or not. “The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding” book can thus help educate others about it {nfpandmore.org}. Also, bleeding before 56 days postpartum has been agreed on by Bellagio Consensus to be something to ignore if truly exclusively and/or eco-breastfeeding.October 3, 2014 – 1:23 pmReplyCancel

  • Jeannie - I have 4 children who were born within 3 years and 10 months. I never stopped breastfeeding in that period and at one time was nursing 3 children (22 month old, 11 month old and newborn). I have two children that were born in the same calendar year! However, after my last baby was born, I had a grade 4 uterine rupture. My 9 + pounder was just too much for my body and I have not carried a successful pregnancy since. My mother had 9 children in 11 years, so I knew what I was getting into! We’re just a fertile lot.October 14, 2014 – 4:52 pmReplyCancel

  • Cami - Colleen, thanks for this! My first two, like yours, are brothers just a year apart. Every baby I’ve had (3 now) has had some nursing issue even if just briefly where I had to offer formula to get them through a rough patch (or at least I was led to believe so by LCs or lac nurses). Maybe this is why my fertility returns within 3-4 mo postpartum. Regardless, I have had 3 kiddos within 3 1/2 years and it has been a tremendous struggle. I was an only child as result of divorce but longed for a larger family. However, I never knew what overwhelmed was until this period of my life. I know God knows best but I often feel stretched far too thin. But of course I treasure my children and I’m trying to remember they won’t be little for long.May 7, 2015 – 11:20 pmReplyCancel

  • Adriana - i believe everyone is different. No two bodies nor minds are the same so everyone’s story is different not right nor wrong just different. This is MY Irish twin experience, 9 months after I had my first child I got pregnant unfortunately it was a tubular pregnancy as a consequence of this my chances of getting pregnant lowered. About two years after that I stoped menstruating I was given medication to regulate me long story short the Dr. never really gave me a concrete diagnosis but he pointed in the direction of PCOS based on the symptoms presented 9 long years no fertility treatment (we had come to terms of only having one kid) I got pregnant :). It has a hard pregnancy at this time my husband lost his job so I was the main provider of our house hold and I was also going to school. As the pregnancy progressed I got sicker with hyperemisis I lost a total of 18 pound by the time I was 5 months pregnant had been hospitalized 4 times so our income was hit even harder we had to move in with my parents. But as soon as I held her in my arms all my troubles seemed insignificant. At my postpartum appointment my Ob recommend for me to get on the pill, I wanted to try for another child in two to three years I thought by that time we would be on our own two feet again, so the pill would regulate me and since I got pregnant once this would be my security not to do so until we where “ready”. I held my baby girl 24-7 she was the kind of baby who slept in increments of 30 min so she was constantly on my breast . Pill and breastfeeding where not strong enough to stop God’s will for me to once again get pregnant almost exactly one year after ( due dates were 6-28-11 and 6-25-12 I found out I was pregnant on Nov.2 two years in a row). I was terrified we were still living at my parents and the family that’s was once three will now be five how were we going to do it? Maybe this was a test to see how much we trusted in him to take over our problems? Or maybe this is my testimony to show that when God says this is your destiny nothing is as powerful as him? One thing I am certain of is everything eventually falls into place. Today we are doing better than yesterday and we hope that tomorrow will be better than today 🙂May 20, 2015 – 1:23 amReplyCancel

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