Let's Talk About Multiples: Interview with Ermita
Firstly, congratulations from us, and thank you for letting us get to know your wonderful family. How did you feel when you first found out you were expecting triplets? Did you have any concerns? How do you feel now that they are a little older?
At the first ultrasound scan, the doctor first announced we were expecting twins. We were thrilled as we imagined how fun it would be to have twins, but when he said he spotted another embryo,(i.e. we were having triplets!), our faces immediately turned black - it seemed like some kind of cruel punishment at that time. I kept asking myself why I was chosen to naturally conceive triplets, it just seemed unfair. We “grieved” for a long time because we knew our lives were about to change dramatically, and it seemed for the worst because we were just unprepared to go from a family of three to a family of six within 8 months. It was only roughly six months into the pregnancy before we adjusted to the notion that we were going to have triplets and started preparing for the arrival of our triplet newborns. Our immediate concern was their health - our identical twins were at risk for restricted uterine growth and everyday I feared that I would go into pre-term labor. Thankfully, everything went smoothly and they were born perfectly healthy at 36+3 weeks and came home with me on day 3.
They are 15 months old now and everyone, including us, were surprised that we made it through the difficult first year without any extra help whatsoever. It is incredibly still tough day to day - the physical work of upkeeping a household and raising four kids under the age of 4 is demanding. However, having a big family, and in our case with three kids of the same ages and a toddler whose only 2 years older - brings a certain joy and contentment. We have even started talking about possibly having a 5th child! That's how much we have enjoyed having a large family.
Most parents only have to deal with one newborn, but as parents of triplets, the initial weeks and months must have been challenging. What do you think helped you get through the difficult newborn stage?
All parents want to get things on the right track those early years. Standard parenting articles encourage breastfeeding, kangaroo care, stimulating your infants by talking and singing to them constantly, etc. We therefore felt lost because there are no standard parenting texts for triplets! Quickly, we realised it was more a matter of just coping and getting through the day for us. I researched a bit on how to cope with multiple newborns and experienced parents of triplets all said the same thing: get them on the same schedule from birth. So that's what we did, we synced their feeding, diapering and sleeping routine from the outset. When one baby woke for milk, we would wake the rest. It really went again my personal beliefs about feeding on demand (which I did with my first child), but we did what we did because the challenges are entirely different when you have three babies. So I learnt to make peace with defying everything I thought I knew about newborns. It really felt like we were starting from scratch. We didn't feel like second-time parents. We felt more like first-time parents.
As parents of multiples, what questions do you get asked by strangers?
Aside from the typical questions on top of everyone's mind, the one that bothers me the most is when people ask if they were naturally conceived. While the question is not malicious, it is intrusive and it reeks of disrespect. People would never ask a parent of a singleton if their babies are naturally conceived, but when it comes to twins, many people do not hesitate to ask or think about the intent of their question. 15 months on, I have tried to make peace with this question!
What aspects of raising multiples do you wish more people understood?
Friends, family members and strangers are always approaching me and telling me how they sympathise with me because I must be “suffering” having to handle so many children of the same age at once. I think people underestimate the power of adaptation - we adapt to our condition and we overcome learning curves and with time, what seems difficult becomes the new normal. So if they ever meet a parent of multiples, do not extend your sympathies, extend instead your blessings and encouragement. Find out how you may help in practical ways too.
I also wished people understood that multiples are just babies who happen to be born together, but they are still very much individuals who develop very different personalities, even if they may be identical or look identical. As a parent I encourage individuation among my triplets, and I wish outsiders would refer to them by their names or call them "girls" or "kids" more rather than "the triplets". If you ask any person who is a twin or triplet, they feel frustrated about constantly being referred to as part of a set/group, rather than as individuals.
How do you juggle work / managing a household and yet having to be present and give attention to three individuals (and their older sister!) at the same time?
I have pockets in the day where I spent time with them as a group and time with them individually. Sometimes I don’t get to spend a lot of time with them, just ten minutes a day, and sometimes it can be as long as an hour or two. We have established a routine and rarely break from it.
I also encourage them to play together or independently from the moment they could crawl so that I get time to write my PhD dissertation and do chores. I also give my 3 year old toddler responsibilities so I can get some help with cleaning and childcare duties. She can't do much yet, but whatever little she pitches in is a huge help. My triplets are also slowly getting roped in to help with household chores. I believe that children are competent individuals from young and try and foster their independence at home.
Last but not least, what encouragement would you give to an expecting or new parent of multiples?
Its important and normal to go through the stages of shock, grief and mental readiness when it comes to expecting multiples. While most parents try to find advice on the practical aspects of raising multiples, they underestimate the emotional and psychological help they need to confront the unique social, emotional and physical realities of raising multiples. So I would encourage them to also read or find a support group that can help them understand their feelings, fears and qualms. I run a Facebook support group for twins, please join us if you are an existing or expecting parent of multiples!
Thank you for your time, Ermita!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Ermita Soenarto is a PhD student and a stay at home mom to four toddlers, three of whom are triplets. She has been looking forward to 2016 because it is the first time in her married life where she is not pregnant or having babies and hopes to finally make progress on her dissertation on the history of family and childhood in the Dutch East Indies. She blogs about parenting multiples and teaching herself to sew at craftyacademic.com.