Normal Twin Language Delays and Their Mother’s Anxiety

Sunshine began speaking shortly after she turned seven months old. Her first word was “duck,” but she picked up new words so quickly that it was hard to maintain a solid list. By her first birthday, she had multiple sentences under her belt. She could count to thirteen by fourteen months. She said “I love you” by eighteen months. She responded to questions. By her second birthday, she recognized twenty letters and could read her own name.

Once she knew a word, it was hers forever.

She was verbally advanced. We knew it. We nurtured her language development through talking and singing and reading with her as much as we could.

I told my oldest sister that she should not compare Sunshine to her second son, who was born exactly seven weeks after Sunshine’s birthday. It was not fair to him. Sunshine was very verbal. She understood language.

She still does. Now that her kindergarten teacher has put a few tools in her hands, she is advancing quickly with her reading.

Grumpy and Sleepy are altogether different. Grumpy spoke first. Coincidentally, his first word was also “duck.” He and Sunshine had both fallen in love with the same stuffed duck in their infancy. While Sunshine was seven months when she grabbed onto that word, Grumpy was nearly ten months old.

Sleepy did not find a word until weeks after that. It was “mama,” but he lost it. I posted a while ago about both boys calling me “dad” for months and breaking my poor mom-guilt-ridden heart.

That is another thing about my sons’ language development that separated them from Sunshine. They have lost words over time. “Dog” faced a similar fate. It was an early word for both of them, but they lost it along the line. Instead, they have used “cat” to mean any animal. They both agree that all animals are cats, even ones that do not look even slightly like our pet cat.

Timehop continually shows me videos of my very verbal Sunshine, who was born six weeks later in the year than Grumpy and Sleepy, and was therefore younger than they are when I watch these videos. Grumpy and Sleepy are not where she was verbally, and I have found myself tempted to compare, which is precisely what I told my sister not to do five years ago.

I need to take my own advice.

This post is for mommas of multiples. If your babies seem behind, do not compare.

I first questioned the possibility that twins might sometimes be delayed with our pediatrician when Grumpy and Sleepy were nine months old. They were late crawlers, especially compared to Sunshine. (There I go again, comparing them.)

The pediatrician said that many multiples reach milestones in the “late average” range, meaning that the concern is likely to be my own and not truly medical/developmental in nature. I did not find any research to support the fact that full-term twins walk later than full-term singletons.

For language, though, there is research that suggests that multiples do develop later. This issue is more likely to appear with identical twins, and may be linked to complications related to multiple pregnancies and deliveries. However, fraternal twins, like Grumpy and Sleepy, are also more likely to develop speech deficiencies than singletons.

The reasons why are so logical:

  1. Multiples spend more time with each other than anyone else. Since they speak at an underdeveloped level, they tend to mimic each other’s methods of communication. My best friend told me that she has a local friend with twins in speech therapy who was told that her sons are reinforcing each other’s poor language skills. It makes perfect sense. If language is developed mostly by interacting with people who speak it and their primary interaction is with someone who does not speak it well, children will struggle to develop language quickly.
  2. Multiples get less one-on-one time with adults than singletons do. This is actually the reason I believed my sons were late to sitting up on their own. I could not easily get on the floor and play games with them for as long as I did with Sunshine because there were two of them that needed my support. I blamed myself for their poor core development. It was not actually my fault, but mom guilt is real. However, much like the first reason listed above, multiples spend less individual time than singletons with people who do speak the language well, so the correct methods of speech are not modeled as much for them.
  3. Multiples also tend to simplify their language in the essence of efficiency. Because they get less individual attention, multiples tend to stick to short sentences. They also tend to be louder. I did not realize that was a legitimate twin thing until I began to research it. They do this so that they can say what they need to say in a way that will be quickly heard and understood. Unfortunately, it can delay their development further.

Grumpy and Sleepy also have what is called a Shared Understanding. This means that they understand each other and use sounds that they have developed to stand for objects that are not true language. Around their first birthday, they were referring to each other as “ahgugug.” Other shared understanding words that they have had include “dee” for anything that they like to throw, “guy” for sock, “psss” for star, and “guk” for boat. They both agree that those are the words that mean those objects. Shared Understanding is something that develops largely because twins spend more time with each other than with anyone else.

There is also research to suggest that the mental health of the parents plays a role in language development as well. Parents of multiples have a higher incidence of mental health problems than parents of singletons, and when parents have a difficult time taking care of themselves, they have a difficult time supporting their quickly developing children.

(Holy link share in this post!)

Here is the thing: Even with all of this information, it is hard not to worry. It is particularly difficult to know when that worry becomes something worth bringing up with a doctor. We are not at that point of worry with Grumpy and Sleepy. I feel like they will be fine. They are working on it. Grumpy is starting to pick up words more quickly right now. Suddenly, he knows that the animal that came with their Little People farm is a “cow” instead of a “cat.” He began saying “sock” the other day, which was a major turning point in the Shared Understanding department. Sleepy is always a couple of weeks behind Grumpy when it comes to language, so I assume he will catch up to Grumpy soon.

There are services for delayed children, whether they are multiples or singletons, and concerned parents should talk to their pediatricians about beginning evaluations.

I worry, though. Each time a Sunshine video comes up on Timehop, I cannot help but wonder when her brothers will get “there” because they are not there yet. It is not fair. I know it.

As with most things related to my anxiety, I have little ability to control that worry, those nagging thoughts that something is not right, that I could be doing more.

I love my sons. I love them up and down and all around. I love them from the ends of the hair on their head to to their tiny tickle toes. I read to them every night and as much as they will let me otherwise. We sing and eat dinner together as a family. We try.

But the people they spend the most time with are each other, and they are both at the same developmental age. They reinforce each other’s speech patterns.

And I wonder… What more can I do? Could I do better? Could I be better?

This is anxiety meeting motherhood. I have read the research. This is normal, natural. Twins are more likely to have a slight delay in language development. I know it. I understand it. My sons are developing language every single day. Over the last week, Grumpy picked up four new words. Sleepy found two of his own. They will be fine.

If only I could make my brain believe it.

This happens to me time and time again. My sons’ speech is not the beginning of this, and it will not be the end.

Having twins has certainly impacted my mental health. My heart is full, and my anxiety is in overdrive. I pray that it gets better.

Twin language is a story that twin mommas should hear, but this story–one of knowing the truth but struggling to really believe it–is one that I am sure that all people with anxiety can understand.

Sometimes, when I learn something that will assuage my fears, I spend time telling myself to “believe it, believe it, believe it.” Eventually, I can.

Soon my sons will say “I love you.” I believe that. They are close. They respond to the phrase now. I say “I love you,” and they give me kisses. We are communicating a beautiful thought.

One day, they will say it too. And I will cry. With joy and with relief. Because that is what I do when the thing I tried so hard to believe finally becomes a truth.

It Is All Sunshine’s Fault

Almost every mother I know will tell you that her first child was an angel. Her first child lulled her into complacency. Her first child somehow convinced her that parenting was easy. She could do anything. Her first child did not yell or climb or throw things.

There are exceptions, of course. My best friend’s first was difficult from birth. She has had plenty of rough moments with him.

But, for the most part, moms agree that baby number one was a breeze.

That is certainly the case here.

Sunshine arrived on the scene two weeks late after a rather uneventful pregnancy. She cried at night if she was not in her swing for the first six weeks, but once she overcame that six week growth spurt, she slept on her back in Saint Daddy’s grandmother’s cradle next to my side of the bed. I could easily reach her there for her middle of the night nursing sessions, which we were both pros at by six weeks. She nursed once or twice a night, and I placed her fresh diapered and full bellied into her cradle where she slept happily until her tummy told her it was time for more noms.

At three months old, I transferred her to her crib in the nursery, which adjoined our room. I expected a fight, but she accepted it beautifully. She hit all of her milestones at a delightfully average rate that caused me not even the slightest concern. She grew on her growth curve; she took to solids right at six months. I did not think too hard. It seemed natural and fitting and completely intuitive.

She did not require baby proofing. She was not a climber. Sunshine did not put random things in her mouth. We put a baby gate up to keep her in the living room and made sure she could not pull items out of the entertainment center, which would cause us more work. But she was not destructive. She did not like messes.

Sunshine was pure bliss.

I told people that Sunshine most assuredly was not completely human. She was too easy, too good-natured, too smart to be completely of this world. At least half of her was alien. It was the only explanation.

In deciding to have a second baby, Saint Daddy and I knew that we were pressing our luck. It seemed unlikely that our second child would be as calm as Sunshine. We referred to this hypothetical child as Sunshine’s Little Brother or even, sometimes, by the name we would eventually bestow upon Sleepy. We knew that Little Brother or Sleepy would rock our world.

When people would ask me if we planned a second child (a question I will always loathe), I would tell them that we were trying to decide if it was worth tempting fate. There was no way we could possibly get two little aliens, nature and nurture be damned.

But of course, I always knew that, if I was having one child, I would be having two. It is not that I see anything wrong with only children, but being raised with so many siblings, I knew that I wanted my children to always have each other in the way that I always have my siblings. We would press our luck. We would see what happened. We would try anyway.

And we did.

But then there were two flickering heartbeats inside two little seahorses.

We never would have had three children. No matter what, at the end of that second pregnancy, one of us was getting “fixed.” That was the agreement. But God wanted Saint Daddy and I to have three babies. That is why he sent us twins. We would not have had a third otherwise. He knew it.

Ideally, as Saint Daddy said, exactly one of them would be a boy. But if he had to choose two of the same sex, he wanted two girls. Saint Daddy makes such a wonderful little girl daddy. Worst case scenario, we would have two boys on our hands. Worst case.

And then, we did.

Our sons were nothing like Sunshine from the first day. We struggled in the hospital with nursing. Sleepy was too sleepy to care about eating. Grumpy was a gassy baby and needed extra care. They woke frequently and at random intervals. Saint Daddy and I separately considered running away. It was a very difficult time for us.

I turned to pumping, which strained us further at the beginning. I spent hours of each day with my breast pump. Saint Daddy took on a lot of the burden.

Then they needed solids earlier than I would have liked. Grumpy reacted poorly to foods, but I could not figure out which ones. Our world was a blur and time was meaningless, and it took too long to figure out. They did not sit up until almost the age that Sunshine was when she started to crawl. They crawled quickly enough after that, but they did not walk until much later than she did, late enough that the doctor began to worry me about it.

Their language development is right on target. But one thing the pediatrician does not measure is their capacity for destruction. Sunshine ripped exactly one book in her first two years of life. Grumpy and Sleepy destroyed two books this week. And by destroyed, I do not mean ripped a page. I mean that they bent them open and stomped on them until their spines cracked and their pages fell out.

They rip apart toys. They throw. They break. They slammed a toy into the television, destroying pixels in the lower left hand corner. Grumpy has been to the hospital for stitches. Sleepy terrorizes the dog.

They are watched, but they are sneaky and unstoppable sometimes.

My best friend often tells me that Sunshine did not prepare us for human children. Nope.

Sunshine might be part alien, but our sons are one hundred percent human.

They are destruction and danger and tears.

Sometimes, I feel incapable of knowing what they need or what they will do next. I love them and hug them and try to teach them, but I know that I have my work cut out for me. Sunshine gave me such a beautiful feeling of complacency. Nothing could get me down when I was only Sunshine’s mother.

But Grumpy and Sleepy are why we cannot have nice things. They are the reason that my China cabinet’s drawers are on the dining room table and why Saint Daddy had to put a lock on the sliding door that leads to his office. They are the reason why we own giant gates and hid our movie collection. Grumpy and Sleepy are why Sunshine’s crayons, which she draws with nearly daily, are put away in another room so they cannot eat them or break them or, now that they have the dexterity with which to do so, color on my walls with them. They are why I do not sit comfortably on my couch in the evenings so as not to tempt them to higher heights.

Right now, Sleepy and Grumpy are throwing toy cars at each other’s heads in the living room. I have already learned that there is not anything worth doing about it. One of them may get hurt, and I will comfort him if he does. But I will also say, “Maybe you will learn not to participate in those sorts of shenanigans in the future.”

Then again, what do I know? I thought parenting would be a breeze.

And it is all Sunshine’s fault.

You Will Always Be a Part of Me

“What’s it like having so many siblings?”

I have been asked that question countless times in my life, and I almost always respond in the same way. Well, Janet, what’s it like only having one?

How is anyone who has only ever lived their life one way supposed to know precisely how to compare it to a life lived another way? I have always had many siblings. By the time I was old enough to truly be aware of it, there were four of us and another on the way. By many standards, three siblings is “so many,” so I know next to nothing about what it is like.

What is it like?

Loud. Having many siblings is loud. It was always loud. There was always talking and yelling and screaming and singing and laughter. Everywhere. Sometimes simultaneously. There was not much room for silence growing up. We sang so much, a habit garnered from our mother, that there was a strict “no singing at the dinner table” rule that we followed on all days of the year, even holidays. Many of us still sing regularly. Saint Daddy used to comment on my singing about what I was doing. He rarely does anymore. Although, he recently called my toothbrushing song “catchy.” Sunshine often shouts “stop singing!” in my direction.

Violent. We fought. We scuffled on the floor. We threw things at each other and ripped items out of each other’s hands. My oldest sister once, in a fit of rage after I refused to do her chores, cornered me in the kitchen while holding a knife asking why I would not just die. My younger brother once pushed my head into the coffee table and sat on it until I stabbed him in the leg with a fork. A few of us carry scars on our bodies from encounters with one another.

Supportive. We would go to bat for each other over anything. My oldest sister once landed a punch for my second oldest sister. When a girl behind me in the lunch line started making fun of my hair and my oldest sister heard her taunts, she stepped in. “That’s my sister. If you have something to say about her, you can say it to me.” The girl did not say another word. When my almost junior prom date spread a rumor about how “lucky” he was going to get because he knew the girls in my family were “easy,” my brother, who is a year younger than me, let him know his opinion on the matter.

Open. There is literally nothing off limits at a gathering of my siblings. This may be something we also picked up from our parents, but we do not hold back when it comes to topics of discussion. We never did. None of us ever had The Talk because it was all just a fact of life. Now, as adults, we are still very open with each other. I can tell my sisters anything, and it will be okay. I trust them.

Cramped. My parents packed us in places. Mom drove a minivan, we all had assigned seats, and it felt like there was always a sweaty arm pressed against mine. If we took friends somewhere, laws were stretched. I remember sitting on the floor next to the sliding door of that white van with the fake wood panel. There were no seats. It was not safe, but it worked. On the vacations that Dad could hardly afford, the whole family often shared a single standard room, sneaking past hotel staff to sleep two at the head and one at the foot of the double bed for the kids, two on the floor, and a pack and play tucked in the corner.

Hilarious. We have a million funny stories and a hundred thousand jokes. One time, that same brother who confronted my junior prom date spent a month trying every possible combination in an ultimately successful attempt to open up the Master lock on my trunk where I kept my PS1. He wanted the victory almost as much as he wanted the gaming system. At the time, it was an invasion of privacy. Now, it is a humorous anecdote. As a child, he was convinced, as the first boy with three older sisters, that when he reached whatever age I was at the time, he would magically also become female. I would tell him, “You’re right! Whenever you become my age, you will be a girl.” And I would laugh and laugh and laugh.

Lonely. This probably seems surprising. But there were a lot of us, and we splintered off. I had two older sisters and two younger brothers and then three sisters after them, and I felt, at times, cut off from those people. I often felt glossed over and ignored. I have a not so pleasant New Year birthday that was easy to misplace in the commotion that was the holiday season. I noticed my sisters’ joint birthday parties as much as I noticed my delayed presents wrapped in Christmas paper nearly a month (or even longer) after my birthday.

My childhood was a million perfect and imperfect moments. It was tears, struggles, knowing too much too soon, fun, games, fireworks shooting over the sound wall in our backyard, warm tomatoes fresh off the vine, a metal swingset, long bike rides with Dad, extended family get-togethers, sneaking warm Diet Cokes so Mom would not notice and blaming it on my brothers, blood, noise, sun tea, breakfasts with Mom, and lunch at Grandma’s. It was beautiful.

I love my siblings. Each and every one of them. In many ways and for various reasons. I love them for our shared roots and for the branches they have grown. I love them.

We are all very different. It is surprising that eight people raised by the same two people can end up so diverse.

My oldest sister is a mother of two. She was a crazy teenager. She hated the world. She was much older than I was when she was able to name her anxiety. She did the stay at home mom thing, scraping nickels up to be with her boys. She is one of my closest friends. I adore her.

My second oldest sister is a single mother of four. Her oldest has a very rare health impairment, and my sister never stops fighting for her. She works a busy job, on her feet for many hours, to provide for her children as best as she can. She is strong and courageous. She says the most inappropriate things sometimes, and I would not have her any other way.

My first brother dealt with heart issues in his teen years. His long-term girlfriend cheated on him and broke his heart. But he came back from it stronger than ever, marrying a woman who sees his worth. Somehow, despite being the kid who lied about everything, he became incredibly level-headed. He writes wonderful fantasy fiction that impresses me constantly.

My next brother is the father of three amazing children. His oldest was “born in the wrong body,” and his support of my nephew is a work of beauty. He deals with demons of an epic scale sometimes. He allows those demons to eat him alive, and somehow, he manages to come out a victor more often than not.

My next sister is battling demons as well. Her story is unfolding all of the time. I miss her. I may never stop missing her. I will forever remember late night talks on our bunk beds. I will never forget the person she was, and I await the person she will become.

My first teenage sister is wonderful. Like many of us, she carries her ghosts with her. She is trying to find her way. She is kind and empathic. She loves animals and her nieces and nephews. She called Sunshine to talk about her first day of school, and Sunshine loved hearing from her. Her soul has always felt older to me. She will do wonderful things.

My final sister, the baby of the family, is almost always on the edge of something horrible. It put a blockade before her a few times before. She has collapsed. She has given in. And she has risen above. Her heart is battered, but it is not broken. Her fight, what she does, is notable. I do not envy her, but I admire her.

Today, we had a rough day. Modern technology makes it very easy to share with large groups thoughts best kept to ourselves. We fought and we fought hard. There are a lot of us with a lot of opinions and a lot of demons to battle. I often say that mental illness runs deep in my family. It does. We carry many demons. Sometimes, we sic those demons onto the people we love because they will love us anyway in the end. I told Saint Daddy at one point that my hackles were raised. My siblings had triggered my anxiety to the point where I was crying at work and trying to pretend that I was not. I felt berated, belittled, and bedraggled. I wanted salvation in the worst way, so I tried to extricate myself from it, but I was back where I started anyway.

Which makes sense because, as with all parts of my life, I started with them.

I could not imagine my life without these people. I love them with a depth that would hardly have seemed fathomable to my childhood self as I lived a loud, cramped, violent, lonely life.

But now, in my early thirties, I am glad I have them.

“Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.” — Carol Ann Albright-Eastman

Thank you for being a part of me.