By Terri Sapienza
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON ó An organizer by nature and profession, Rachel Rosenthal Strisik’s impulse toward order hit full throttle when she learned she was pregnant with twins.
Right away she sought out a local support group and started networking with mothers who had twins or triplets. At her suburban Bethesda, Md., home, she created folders for medical bills and parenting articles. She set up areas upstairs and down to diaper and dress the babies. She baked and froze lasagnas and chicken casseroles for those days when she was sure to be too harried for cooking.
Her operating theory: “You need to bring order to the chaos before it happens.”
For most parents, hearing that they are having multiples is “joy mixed with terror mixed with moments of calm,” says Patricia Malmstrom, co-author of “The Art of Parenting Twins” and director of Twin Services Consulting, a support Web site for parents with multiples. After absorbing the news, Malmstrom says, many parents-to-be find themselves “scrambling to find balance in the midst of a very unstable feeling.”
Much of that scrambling centers on how to keep a household running smoothly ó or just running ó with two, three or more babies crying at once.
Multiple births are increasingly common in this country. Between 1980 and 2005, the rate of twin births almost doubled, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Triplet and higher-order multiple births more than quadrupled. Experts say the jump can be attributed to more women delaying childbirth: After age 35, women have an increased chance of conceiving multiples, especially if they are undergoing fertility therapies.
This trend complicates matters on the home front: Women expecting multiples are often confined to bed before delivery and may have a longer recovery afterward, which can add to a general unraveling of housekeeping.
Rosenthal Strisik, 30, runs Rosey’s Urban Style, a personal organizing and shopping service, so she was already skilled at planning. And since the arrival of identical twins Ellie and Marin in January ó the first children for Rosenthal Strisik and her husband, Marshall Strisik Schattner ó she says she has also learned to be flexible. Because her girls are different weights and require different amounts of food, she started labeling bottles with their initials. She keeps Ellie on the left and Marin on the right during feedings, naps and playtime so friends and relatives can tell who’s who.
“Get your systems in place as early as possible,” she says. “But know that the babies will change your system. Things are constantly changing.”
Annie Elliott, 37, is a Washington designer and first-time mother of 3-year-old twin girls. When she learned she was expecting, she put up plenty of open shelving in the nursery and hung a clear plastic shoe holder on the wall next to the changing table so onesies and wipes were nearby and visible.
“You have to have everything at your fingertips,” she says. “Wrestling a baby in and out of clothing is more stressful when you have another baby crying.”
She devoted an entire shelf ó not just a charming little basket ó to diapers. (“Really stock up. You won’t believe how fast you go through things.”) And she color-coded the girls’ clothing to help others tell them apart: red for Ruthie, green for Georgie.
Becky DeStefanis, 34, and John Spirtas, 33, parents of 2-year-old triplets, have some counterintuitive advice for couples expecting multiples: Resist the impulse to move to a bigger house right away.
DeStefanis and Spirtas, who live in a small suburban Cape Cod, say it’s easier to monitor children in a smaller space, where there are fewer places for them to get hurt in. “And when things get lost, there are only a few rooms where they can be,” DeStefanis says.
When the triplets were newborns, the couple put a mini-fridge and crockpot filled with water in the upstairs nursery so they could easily warm bottles in the middle of the night. They created a chart to track when each baby was changed, and when and how much they ate.
“It’s easy to forget who’s doing what when,” DeStefanis says.
To contain daytime activities to the first floor, the couple turned the den into a nap room when Ben, Ella and Marie were infants. A little-used end of the kitchen became a changing and dressing area, and the dining room became a playroom, complete with bright-colored rubber floor mats to cushion unsteady toddlers.
They also put a clear plastic shoe holder to clever use: They hung one on a kitchen door to store bottles and, eventually, sippy cups. “Everything is about ease of use, seeing what you need and getting to things quickly,” Spirtas says. “Especially in the beginning, because you’re asleep all the time.”
Parker Rea, 33, and her husband, James, 37, are expecting twin boys in June. They plan to stay in their Washington townhouse for the time being. Though space will be tighter, they’ve decided to rearrange things rather than move.
“Right now we’re looking at our space and thinking about how to make it more efficient,” Parker says. Bulky antiques will be put in storage and replaced with smaller, less precious storage pieces, and the boys will share a room with two small-scale cribs. “I think it’s about getting creative about how you’re going to make it work.”
Another good piece of advice: Avoid buying too much baby gear.
Kate Hood, 35, a suburban mother of 1-year-old twins and a 3-year-old, says it’s a mistake to think that a home with multiples needs multiple swings and multiple bouncy seats.
“Two babies does not automatically mean two of everything,” she wrote in an e-mail. “And the gear will take over your house regardless, so try to keep it as minimal as possible.”
Try borrowing baby gear before purchasing it, several parents advised. Some babies are lulled by motorized swings, and some aren’t; some delight in doorway jumpers, and some don’t. If possible, try before buying one, two or three of anything.
And though part of the fun of having a baby is designing and dressing the new nursery, getting caught up in the decor may not prove to be the most productive distraction. Take it from a design expert.
“If you worry about every small decorating detail, you’ll go crazy,” Elliott says. “Take that time and energy and go buy diapers.”
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