People are drawn to us like bugs to a light during the dead heat of summer. We get peppered with questions and, at first, it’s really off putting but I get that people like to hear the stories, chew the fat and such. Some do it for reasons of kinship and some for just the excitement. Either way, because being a mom of twins is a novelty to some degree, I wanted to quell some curiosity. So, for the record, here’s what I’d like to tell people when they ask me questions about our kids:
“Are they identical?”
Take your TL;DNR hats off folks and dig in…
Foremost, our girls are identical according to what we know but have not been DNA confirmed. I let this remain uncertain because, unless the girls themselves wish to know this as hard fact, regardless of them being identical or not, I value their identity as individuals and want to leave a bit of wonder in their being similar and yet two very different entities. Confirming they are identical twins via DNA puts too much emphasis on sameness, in my opinion.
Now, they were mono/di twins. What that means, in layperson terms, is that there was one placenta and two amniotic sacs. This can mean they were separate (fraternal) eggs that fused or it was one egg (identical) and that eggs split at the right time to create one placenta (think: outer eggshell) but two internal, yet separate, yokes (amnion). Essentially each girl got a curtain separating their room so neither could clamp off each other’s supply of blood which was good. The doctor’s official opinion in Burlington during an ultrasound there was that they were identical because there was no thick ‘veil’ of the amnions which would have indicated they had fused from two separate eggs. Instead, it was thin like a double-yoked chicken egg.
Additionally, they are the same gender, which is a requirement for identical births (minus the exception to the rule for those suffering bizarre gene issues, such as 3 sex chromosomes, which all is entirely too complicated and rare a subject to deal with here); they have the same blood type; and they exhibit close personal phenotypes. We see these in physical form, i.e. looks, weight, height, facial dimensions, hair swirl, teeth eruption which is mirrored, hair and eye color et. al.. Identical twins do not necessarily share the same fingerprints or birthmarks (although they may be similar).
‘Mirror’ Twins do exist, amongst a myriad of other complicated and rare identical twin-forms. Mirrors are not exact mirrors but often are an expression of how the egg split, providing a ‘reflection’ of expressed genes so kids may, for example, have opposite hair swirls. Our girls have mirror similar palmar flexion creases of their hands but have the same directional hair swirls.
“Do twins run in the family?”
Jokes of sprinting kids aside, the genetic propensity to crap out twins tows the thin line of how much science really understands the cause and effects that make up the creation of identical twins. The world and workings of the womb are still a bit of a wonderfully unexplored place, namely since research funding is limited. So when a nurse, doctor, ultrasound tech or that lady down the road talk about having the right ‘stuff’ in the genetic makeup for twins or talks highly about knowing/understanding zygosity I take it with a grain of salt and just nod my head. Unless you’re an actual expert in the field it’s mostly people, even doctors, spouting what they read somewhere and it may or may not have any credence.
I learned this all very quickly through my searching for answers, and my own parroted errors, that twin zygosity and the genetic components that surround identical twinning are marked with questions and not answers. And, yes, I spoke to the actual experts on twinning at a renowned hospital – they were very clear on how little is actually understood regarding twins.
The common rhetoric we usually heard was and is almost totally wrong or merely the conflation of a half-truth. Failing to see the complex nature of the cellular division, interruption, environmental change, rare occurrences and a myriad of other super scientific happenings — like genetic chimeras! – we are stuck with a lot of unknowns regarding the probability of identical twin conception. And although people may act like they know what’s going on, it’s mostly people repeating what they’ve heard.
Every super market interaction with strangers I have heard lots of convoluted statements of fact but twins are bizarre on all fronts. It makes them the enigma of the hour all the more for it. Why and how identical twins occur is only basically understood and there is not enough research funding to propel it any faster at this point. Identical twins themselves may or may not run in families – the jury is still out because the research thus far tells us little and proves no sound correlation. That said, fraternal twins can run in maternal lineages where hyper-ovulation (or ovulation of more than one egg) occurs regularly. Other factors are diet, weight, previous pregnancies, older women, and a slew of haphazard correlations that may or may not signal causation. There is some belief an older egg may be the cause, and others have tapped into a rarely talked about idea, which surmirses that sperm may hold key enzymes that have some responsibility in this when meeting eggs susceptible to said enzyme — but all of it, at this point, is merely speculation.
All of that aside, my mother is a genealogist and we have a vast cornucopia of identical and fraternal twins in our family on both sides of my gene-pool. Something like 17 known sets or more. My maternal grandfather was an identical twin as well — and I have fraternal triplet cousins. And so we add the other factor of nature – that perhaps twinning itself may not be rare but surviving identical twinings are, perhaps, the real anomaly.
Nobody really knows the answer…
“Okay, Adriana, I give. Why the speech on all this?”
Well, you see, initially, we were told our girls were fraternal on faulty ideas of what that meant. This lead to a kind of drunk-walk through our pregnancy with convoluted understanding going on and I was determined to figure out what was actually what.
That said, almost everybody I met wanted to be an expert on twins because they were an expert at their one thing related to babies. It was badly disjointing because I had a herd of doctors and specialists saying one thing and a bunch of other doctors and specialists saying another thing… And I had doctors fighting with their own staff. In front of us!
Almost no one was humble enough to say they didn’t know — except for my very first ultrasound technician who told me I was having twins. She said they very well might be identical or fraternal — but she said, “I don’t understand twins. Twinning is very complicated.” She was right on the money.
However, due to the nature of them being mono/di in a solid placenta that showed no signs of fusing, our doctors at Burlington were convinced they were identical. I went with them because they actually had people who were experts on multiples on staff.
As a mom of twins, I want to illustrate how god damn confusing this all is. So bold statements like, “Identical twins don’t run in families” or “Sperm have nothing to do with it” or “The egg is weak” or “The mom is super healthy and a more evolved form” or “Our twins skip a generation” are usually not on point with root causes which may be buried in the complexities of chemistry, biology, and still unknown natural phenomenon.
Just, simply, appreciate the wonder that is nature’s incidental clones. It is one of the few human things we all get to be in awe of… and it also allows us to humble our inner know it all.
“Are they natural? Did you plan this? Was it an accident?”
Brutal sex magic was involved so extrapolate from that what you will and realize just exactly how much of an asshole anybody is who would ask this question. Never ask anybody this question ever. EVER. And if you do I hope someone details their entire conception to you, bit by bit, grotesque detail upon grotesque detail…
As for timing, they were perfectly on schedule for conception and a bit early at delivery but we took what came our way. Load for fucking load.
I love to hate those questions…
“OH! THEY ARE SO CUTE! I WANT TO HAVE TWINS TOO! OMG!”
First — I want to share some of that enthusiasm but when people make this statement I also want to kick them in their genitals with steel toed boots. No honest person with half a brain wishes twins on themselves and their partner – you just accept it as it comes. Two or more babies are a blessing and a curse, folks. People who have twins have a higher divorce rate, budgets get shot in the spine and the stress is overwhelming at best, at worst it is self-destructive.
A person wishing that on themselves makes them seem ignorant to both the hardships and the reality that is presented by having twins; it’s not just a ‘fun’ thing having a baby and neither is it having two of them, simultaneously. A lot of challenges lay ahead even now that the uber-needy phase of newborns is over. Raising two girls who will need to fight to find identity in a world that is obsessed with the oddity of their physical similarities and lack of birth order dynamics is stressful enough but it’s just the tip of the iceberg that must be dealt with.
I also get the feeling people want the celebrity of being twin parents when they say this and they fail to register how hard that is to juggle. I want to improve my children’s lives, push them to be fantastic and intelligent people with conviction, compassion and that root-bound personal compass built in with common sense, a level head, a skeptic’s measure, and an abundance of humor so they can tolerate this miserable and amazing fucking world. That’s a big-ass to-do list, my friends.
And, no, I do not want them to be young forever. I do not pine for them to remain small but to become resilient, reliable and damn good people. I crave getting to know them. They have a tall order in their wake, as we have in the stake of their raising. How is any of this romantic to people? We’re looking down a double barrel shotgun of chance every single day. It is gritty and sour, it is wonderful and beautiful. But all this means standing up against a constant barrage of unknowns and keeping it together. Every. Single. Day. And just dealing with it. Bit by bit.
This means holding to your word even at the eleventh hour when the world might crush you with its outside pressures to give in to twice the demand. It means compromise and discussion, research and surviving every time you second guess yourself knowing full well that you don’t have any do-overs. You get one shot in the dark with two little people being molded by your standards. How much pressure does it take you to crack? How many times can you cry into a handful of laundry before you break? I fear for them and hold them close, constantly pondering how to deal with it as it comes in waves through simple tasks, like grocery shopping or sitting down to eat at a restaurant. Whether it is dealing with them or dealing with the outside world and people – it’s an inordinate amount of pressure. Strangers want to touch them, kiss them, hold them. Strangers judge because you aren’t as composed as singleton moms. It is nice one minute and turns on you the next. You are always in a ping-pong state unlike other people.
Strangers fawn over their pictures and ask for copies. People give huge gifts. People tell you how to raise them, despite never once having changed a diaper or spending three months getting a total of twelve hours sleep per week. And you have no reserves to really deal or handle all this — it just comes at you because the PR that comes with twins is its own kick in the cunt. We have to work with it and manage it, for our girl’s health and safety, but to do so is an immeasurably harsh task some days.
Kids are not easy to rear. Raising two at once is a challenge of its own nature. Do not casually disregard with statements like this or realize you have separated yourself, deeply and eternally, to the people who do have multiples.
Also, you come off shallow as fuck to a mom so deep in the trenches of crazy we can’t stop ourselves. We have already judged you. You’ll know that when you hear the prolonged sigh pass our lips.
“I had my kids X months apart. It was just like having twins!”
We all have challenges as parents, babies are not easy. That said, no, two kids born in separate pregnancies are not the same as having two kids back to back. That’s its own ball game. I remember being a first-time mom torn between two kids in a NICU. Sure, I took advice from singleton parents who were in the NICU or who had a NICU experience – you know why? Because just the idea other people were there helped. They go the idea. But it was a twin mom who broke from her schedule and her time to bring her older twins to meet me and take me out for pizza that I relished because she ‘got’ it. She knew I was spinning out of control and the real reasons why – and she showed me it does get better. That was amazing. (Thank you, Heather! More than I can ever really express!).
But I sure didn’t and don’t discount singletons as somehow being their own challenge, regardless of age difference/dynamic. I remember holding Aria a lot in the beginning because Aurora was stuck on that stupid nasal cannula with forced room air (which was more like a water boarding torture device, since the humidifier in it often sent jets of water into her nose and she’d flip a shit). All I wanted to do was hold Aurora. When I got to hold her, I felt I was doing a disservice to Aria and lamented not holding her. I was damned no matter what I did. That was my personal hell.
My husband worked to keep us financially afloat while I was falling apart, alone, in the midst of that juggle. In the end, all sorts of parents and people helped me get through. People who adopted kids called me. People who had no kids talked to me. People who had lost children catered to me. An Amish woman made me tea when I was so shell shocked and alone in the Ronald McDonald Charity House kitchen I didn’t know what was up or down. When her baby was born he was a micro-preemie and they weren’t sure if he’d make it out alive. And I remember, when I was in the transitional unit, a mom with a toddler who had leukemia was sitting, shell shocked in the hospital parent’s lounge. I bought her a soda and we talked – I was the first person she’d spoken to who wasn’t a doctor or family member. She all but came out and said that her son was going to die. We talked about the weather, about hating hospitals, about stupid shit. She thanked me – just for talking to her. People need people even if we can’t always ‘get’ what we’re all going through.
Stop barking up this tree. We aren’t the same but we are parents.
“I could never do what you do… It’s like my life is not the same after having a baby and that’s just one baby. How do you do it?”
Again, the paradoxical chasm between singleton and multiple parents looms… We are all in the trenches of parenting, albeit our challenges are different. Babies are hard no matter if there is one or multiple babies. You suck it up and you do your thing – whatever is thrown at you. I chalk our resolve up to the following:
1.) A solid relationship built on mutual respect that was able to face even child infancy with only two minor fights that didn’t involve name calling (but did involve us getting a dishwasher that does not have a name or a pulse).
2.) Designated roles – my husband works and brings in money regularly; he helps around the house when he can. I keep up the house and the kids regularly; I bring in money when I can. Nobody overlords the cash.
3.) Supportive family and friends that also understand when to get out as much as when to help us.
4.) A decent sex life (yes, I am serious).
5.) Respecting everyone’s need for personal space, time alone, and relaxation.
We aren’t super-human’s, we’re just tough as nails parents — as any engaging parents worth their mettle ought to be when faced with the powerful effects of circumstance.
“Did you have a night nurse?”
HAHAHAHAHAHA! No. We did not. We did not call anyone in to help us overnight although plenty of people stopped in, brought us food and got to ogle babies. I was terrible at taking any reprieve because my kids were so tiny – I was obsessive, neurotic, hormonal, and fucking bat-shit insane around my tiny infant children. I would have trusted no one else and I was, looking back, mad-dog crazy. But my kids were 110% my focus; I was lucidly aware of everything during that time period.
People would have helped us at night had I not been suffering some kind of literal form of Mama-Bear madness, but William and I felt it was our duty as new parents not to flake out at all. Even to the point where I was falling apart and hadn’t taken a full shower in a month because every time I got in the shower I heard a baby crying or an alarm going off and I had to get out (even though neither of those things was happening – I call that Parental PTSD; phantom baby cries are a thing for a LOT of parents, especially the primary caregiver).
All that said – if you have twins and you can afford a night nurse, by all means, do that.
“Do you guys ever get out?”
Sure, but when we became pregnant we decided that once they were born we would not leave the girls with grandparents for very long or with imposed regularity. No regular Friday night benders to recapture our youth or whatever. We have been on two or three official dates without the kids since they were born. We allow the grandparents (those willing to change a diaper) to babysit when they are willing to agree to it. This way I also figured if we absolutely need to impose on people for an emergency the ticket holders are available and less likely to feel like we’re unloading our kids on them for everything. If we call people we really-really-really need that help and they know it.
We are ultra-grateful for the people in our lives that help us and we do not want to misuse them. We also want them to enjoy their grandbabies.
As for babysitters, well, I am not fond of them this stage and may never be fond of because of the mishaps that can occur.
William and I decided I would stay at home for a reason — other people are not responsible to raise our kids. We are also not that trusting of the things we hold most precious so getting to take responsibility for watching our twins will take an act of faith we are not ready to produce yet, if ever in their early childhood, with non-family members. Additionally, childcare with twins takes expense to a whole other level. In me not working I make more money for us, at least in the long run.
“How was your birth? Got any advice?”
My birthing experience I’ll discuss at a later time.
As for advice — assume the position required to safely have a birth regardless of any of your principles, wants, or notions. If you lose part of the birthing experience you craved then acknowledge the lost opportunity and your want, give yourself that, but don’t ever, EVER sacrifice your safety or the safety of your children for idealized notions. And surround yourself with the most professional people who can and will advocate for your safety (first and foremost), and the safety of your offspring.
“What’s it like having two babies at once?”
What’s it like having one? Add having to repeat each task at least twice every time – sometimes more. Add more strangers asking you personal questions, telling you life stories about twins in their family, and wanting to touch your kids in the supermarket, hospital, waiting rooms, parks, and restaurants. Add feeling weird and answering odd question lists to berate good-hearted people for asking you questions. Love it all, hate some of it, and keep moving. Avoid going to public places unless absolutely necessary to avoid the swarm of white haired old women clawing to get a look. Go, always, with backup persons if you can. Bring a blanket to cover up one kid. Learn to pretend you are in a hurry and assume an even more terrifying bitchy resting face. And then, for the nuts and bolts of this operation, try to keep things marginally fair. Equality and fairness are such ridiculous notions to parents of multiples because what seems fair is not always equal and vise versa. Have fun drowning in guilt with those concrete boots…
Basically we just do things on a situational basis in this house. Managing guilt is one way we do it – knowing you have to help one baby before you can get to the other baby is just what you do. You don’t sweat the small stuff.
Juggling housework, time with my partner, writing, and all the simple pleasures I still adore and need to maintain my identity is its own onslaught of confusion, but with a set routine and rituals there are the tactics of any good mom of multiples — or any parent, really. The juggle is just that much more complicated right out of the gate.
“What’s the most annoying thing people ask you or say to you regarding the girls?”
By far my most hated questions or statements are the negative ones or the ones that devalue their individuality. What makes me angry are questions like: “Who is the evil twin?” Like, are you FUCKING serious?
And the statement, “Double trouble!” It’s literally just not endearing even the first time and definitely not after the 8,000th time you hear it.
I realize, to some degree, that people aren’t trying to be assholes even though they are coming off that way to a mom of multiples deeply biased and stuck in the trenches. I’ve settled on the smile and feigned-bemusement style eye rolling so no-one suspects I am counter judging them. Comparing my kids at such a constant rate is obnoxious when they can’t say more than a few nouns, flip flop in moodiness due to teething or some other frustration. They are babies and they have quirks all their own. As they age I can see myself getting more defensive about this. I will not tolerate it as the girls become more sentient to the conversation because it is downright rude.
“Does it bother you when people refer to them as ‘The Twins’?”
I tend to reference them by name but I also realize people can’t tell them apart so we go with the flow for now on that. To many people, they just are ‘the twins’ at the moment and I get they aren’t involved enough to understand the nuance. The need for it does arise the closer people are to them and I’ll make a bigger stink
But there is also the fact that they are, indeed, twins, and acknowledging that in and of itself isn’t bad. The idea that they are just ‘one of the twins’ and thus one in the same is the kind of referencing that bugs me. I want them to find their own identity and not be pigeonholed as if they don’t amount to anything unless they are together or the same. They were born together and they have similarities, physically, but they are allowed to be as alike and as different as they care to be.
“Do you dress them alike? Why or Why Not?”
I tend to dress them however the laundry falls… we have matching outfits and I like to do that sometimes because they are cute but I have nothing that compels me to dress them alike except that matching whatnots were in the laundry together. To me, they aren’t dolls. The idea is just that we’re comfortable, in clean clothes and the wheel of life turns. I do use color coordination differences to let people know who is who if we’re going to a social function. Sometimes… Other times I use that to fuck with people.
What I want to impress upon other people is the importance of the fact they are little people with a very unique bond granted to them by their arrival together. It is cool, but it does not make them who they are just as their clothing doesn’t give definition to them at this point in their lives. They can each decide that as they grow up to be whoever Aria and Aurora decide to become as people — good, bad and indifferent as those characteristics may be when they can start making more personally aware choices.
But, again, it’s also going to depend on how the laundry happens to get done, too… I’m just sayin’.
“How do you handle two kids screaming and crying at once? Do you get anything done?”
Again, it’s parenting — if you are at all responsible you respond to the call. You do your best. You use your resources and try to get to the bottom of it and most of the time they don’t freak out simultaneously; that’s great! If they are going two-for-two, you go to whoever seems to be the worst or you pick a kid, any kid, and go from there. Bonding with a baby means you do have a ‘read’ on things like what certain crying or whining means. Pain is a distinct outcry, as is frustration. It sounds lame to say that but it’s true; I could usually figure out where in the daily routine we are and what is expected next and/or I can check a diaper. Plus we did some sign language when they were small to help jump start communication. When separation anxiety meets with frustration it is often in the form of fussing so you can usually pinpoint that. All this comes in time, learning the ropes as a parent. You don’t shit out a kid and know what you are doing no matter how maternal or in your element you might feel. When it’s your kid you have a lot to learn and reason to be humbled by the fact this snippet in time might be amazing, and you might lose your shit later.
A NICU nurse asked me if I had other kids at random one day, at the very beginning, when I went over and just changed a diaper. I told her no. She said, “Well, you’re diving right in then, most people are a little more apprehensive.”
I told her, deadpan, “I have no idea what I am doing, but this is something in the midst of not being able to do much at all and it makes me feel better.”
That was my motto for a long time — until my identity as a mother finally came into my own acceptance and vernacular I was compelled to just DO whatever I could.
You roll with the punches; you do what you can and feel what you must.
“Do you want more kids?”
I am seeing more of a puppy in our far off future than I am of any more kids.
Possibly some chickens.
Got a question for a twin mom? Want an answer?