As the parents of identical twins who are now 7 years old, my husband and I believe we have faced some of the major hurdles of their young lives, and come through them very well for two people who knew nothing at all about raising twins. We made it through the pregnancy and, more to our credit, we survived the first year of babyhood with virtually no sleep and another child, age 3.

When the babies first came home from the hospital, my oldest son peeked over the rails of their crib and stared. His eyes were so wide. He was so amazed by what he saw. He turned to me and said, "There's two of them." I think that is pretty much the way most parents go through a twin pregnancy -- in a state of shock.

Having twins does not have to be too much different from having a single baby. It just requires more attention and preparation. There are approximately 36,000 sets of twins born each year in the United States. Twins occur once in 90 births.

Fraternal twins are the result of two fertilized eggs and are not any more alike than any other singletons born to the same parents. The chance of bearing fraternal twins may be inherited from either side of the family and is affected by heredity, race, maternal age and number of children previously born. Black people have the highest incidence of twins, with Asian families having the lowest. Identical twins -- the result of a single egg splitting after conception -- have the same genetic make-up and will look the same.

George Bronsky, a perinatalogist (an obstetrician with at least two years clinical experience in the area of multiple-birth pregnancies) at Columbia Hospital for Women, practices maternal fetal medicine. According to Bronsky, twins create a high-risk pregnancy. It is very important for the expectant mother to have the best prenatal care and that she follow the doctor's orders. With twins, there is a tendency to deliver prematurely. Other complications could include toxemia, hypertension and gestational diabetes. Because a multiple pregnancy is much harder on the mother than a single one, Bronsky stresses proper nutrition and plenty of rest. Nutrition is important in all pregnancies but more so with twins. There is a possibility of developing anemia during the pregnancy, so it is necessary to follow a good diet that is low in salt, high in protein.

Before you bring your babies home from the hospital, there are some things parents might want to consider, such as contacting the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs Inc. This organization has 361 local chapters across the country.

The basic purpose of the organization is to offer support to parents, research and educating the public about twins. It also will put parents in contact with their local Mothers of Twins Club.

Lois Gellmeyer, executive secretary, and the mother of twin 15-year-old boys, says, "The first thing I tell parents when they call is to get plenty of rest because those first three months after you come home from the hospital are very difficult. The babies are newborn and require a lot of attention and you are still trying to recover from the labor and delivery."

She offers this advice to parents of twins:

Write down names of people who offer to help and assure them you'll call them when the time comes.

Have a good pediatrician, preferably one who has experience with twins.

Don't give the children rhyming names.

Dress the children in different colors when they first come home. Parents have thought they fed both babies when they actually fed the same one twice.

Select an obstetrician that will not discourage you from breast-feeding if that is what you desire.

Prepare older children for the arrival of twins. They should be given extra attention before and after the day the twins come home from the hospital.

Contact the Mothers of Twins Clubs in your area. They can give you some much-needed support and frequently have clothing and furniture sales.

Take time out for the marriage relationship. Very often in the early months parents become so tired that there is no emphasis on their relationship. Feelings of resentment and neglect can make an already-difficult time much worse.

The D.C. Chapter of Mothers of Twins was founded by Carolyn Arrington Carter, who also serves as the club's president. The club meets every other month. Its main objective is to provide support and information. "Very often," says Carter, "I serve as a counselor to new mothers who call with various problems." The club also maintains a scholarship fund to help with twins' education.

The biggest hurdle parents of twins face is individuality. While this is an important subject for all twins it is even more important for parents of identical twins. Nowhere does this come into play more than when they dress, start to make friends and -- most important -- when they enter school.

Michael Datch, a pediatrician in Silver Spring, explains: "If the twins are not treated as separate individuals, they will never learn to separate and will always have problems into their adult life, trying to figure out who they are.

"If they are not given the tools early on in their lives to become their own person," he continues, "they will never learn how to be independent, functional adults."

From birth on, twins should be allowed to have their own personalities. Parents of twins do not -- and should not -- call their children "the twins" but should refer to them by their names.

As parents of twins, we have to reinforce this in our relatives. My husband, Collis, says he is frustrated with relatives and friends who simply look at his identical twin daughters and try to find distinguishing marks as a way to tell them apart. "People have to learn to get to know them as the individuals they are," he says, "and stop trying to constantly make them a twosome. It is irritating to me sometimes when people don't even take the time to find out who's who. It makes my daughters feel as if they are a bunch instead of two separate people."

We parents of twins are constantly on a mission to educate the public about our children. Many people believe that because two people look alike their names should rhyme and they should be dressed the same. Kathy Powell of Northeast Washington also has identical twin daughters. "On one of my first trips out with my daughters, a woman approached me in the shopping mall, looked down at the babies in their twin stroller and said to me 'Oh, those can't be twins; you don't have them dressed alike.' "

Dressing twins can be complicated. Says Powell, whose daughters are 9: "They don't want to dress alike but when I buy them different styles of clothing they're upset because I didn't buy the same thing for each one; but if they have the same clothing they won't wear it together because they don't want to look like twins."

Lois Gellmeyer says that the biggest hurdle parents will face with their twins is their education.

There are as many advantages and arguments for keeping twins together as there are for separating them in school. Aside from the experience of nursery school or play group, school is the first time children step into society. In preparing for the school experience of kindergarten and first grade, parents have a great deal of information to consider. There are innumerable studies on the subject, as most parents of twins know; ditto the number of books and opinions from well-meaning friends, doctors and relatives.

It is important to remember, however, that no literature, doctors, friends or relatives know your children as well as you. Parents have to know their children and watch how they interact with each other and with friends. Questions to ask yourself and their nursery school teacher include such things as, do they play separately or together, is one twin more aggressive than the other.

Frequently this type of behavior will cause the other twin to become introverted and shy. While observing my daughters in kindergarten, I noticed they did not play with the same children, their interests were different and I concluded that while they were close, they were independent enough to survive in the same first-grade class.

Having twins in the same classroom has some advantages: They will tend to settle down faster than other children in the beginning days of school. They always will have a friend to help them through the transitions.

There can be problems in keeping twins together, however. A twin who feels that he or she is not as good as the other will sometimes act in a disruptive manner to get some attention. Also, a more aggressive twin can overshadow or restrict the other's behavior.

Placing your twins with different teachers could help you to get a more accurate picture of each child. For Marilyn Armstrong Drake and Carolyn Armstrong, 26-year-old District residents, it was a question of privacy. They shared the same bedroom until they left home to go to college. "I liked being in different classes because we were able to develop distinct personalities and since we were in different classes, people couldn't compare us to each other," says Armstrong.

Being in school offers a child a life of his own away from his parents. They may choose not to share some aspects of their lives with their parents or siblings -- only with their friends. If they are in the same class and one twin has the habit of coming home and telling everything about what the second twin is doing, (good or bad) the second twin is denied that right to privacy.

Carol and Donald Dell of Potomac are parents of 17-year-old twin girls. From the time their daughters were school age, the decision of same/separate classrooms was left up to them. The girls stayed together until their junior year in high school. Then one of the girls decided she wanted to be on her own.

In talking to the girls I discovered the change in schools was due more to academics and not to get away from her sister. In fact they loved being together because it gave them the opportunity to "be everywhere" in the school. They were constantly meeting new people through each other and both girls enjoy a wide circle of friends.

It is important to note that even though children are twins, and very likely to progress at much the same pace, they should not be expected to follow the same learning patterns.

If one school is better than another one and this school only has one classroom for each grade, then it's time to have a talk with the teacher and the principal. Explain your concerns, ask that the children be put in different groups for reading, art, music, anything that uses groups so that they are still in the same classroom but not constantly together.

If they will be in the same classroom, talk to the teacher and help her to identify each twin so that they will not be mixed up.

Make sure their after-school activities are different; something that promotes each twin's individuality. Be sure each teacher involved knows what kind of relationship the twins have.

Whatever your decision, talk to your twins and explain it to them. They will handle the situation much better if they know what is happening to them.

In any situation with twins it's important to remember what Don Keith, cofounder of the Center for Study of Multiple Birth, says: "We must not let ourselves be caught practicing the four C's: Too much Closeness leads to Comparison which will eventually lead to Competition and will finally lead to Cheating one twin or both out of their special uniqueness."

For information and assistance:

National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs Inc., P.O. Box 23188, Albuquerque, N.M. 87192-1188. (505) 275-0955. Write for a free pamphlet, "Your Twins and You," and ask about support groups in your community.

Twin Services, a phone service for multiple-birth families; publications available; P.O. Box 10066, Berkeley, Calif. 94709 (415) 524-0863.

Doubletalk -- a quarterly newsletter for parents of multiples; P.O. Box 412, Amelia, Ohio 45102. (513) 231-8946.

Twins Magazine, P.O. Box 12045, Overland Park, Kan. 66212; 1-800-821-5533.

D.C. Chapter, Mothers of Twins Club. (202) 890-0322.

Parents of Twins, Multiples, Montgomery County Chapter; (301) 649-7868 (taped message), and (301) 279-0282.Upper Prince George's County Mothers of Twins Chapter; (301) 552-1390.

The Center for Study of Multiple Birth, 333 East Superior St., Room 464, Chicago 60611; (312) 266-9093. Write or call for a list of current publications regarding medical risks and special problems encountered by parents and their offspring.

"The Parents Guide to Raising Twins" by Elizabeth Friedrich and Cherry Rowland (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1983); information for parents from pregnancy to the first school days.