There was a moment during the Christmas party, after the mothers sang the traditional carols and watched their pairs of children romp and play, when they paused to reflect on their own miracles.
Christmastime has a way of doing that, making people reflective. And Lord knows, the women in that room had plenty on their minds.
All are mothers of twins, who gathered with their families in Largo one recent Saturday to celebrate Christmas and their new bond. They recently formed a group to offer one another support and share information and advice on the difficult but satisfying job of raising twins.
Arie Gray, 44, of Oxon Hill, got all sentimental as she looked around the room and scanned the faces of mothers who suffered through difficult pregnancies, children who survived frightening odds, siblings who learned to become little caretakers, and husbands who fulfilled the role of parenting partner.
"There's a lot of love in this room," Gray said.
The beginning of the group was simple. Renee Carter-Perpall, of Glendale, the mother of 3-year-old twins, a boy and girl, noticed another mother leaving a department store in Landover Mall just ahead of her in October. The double stroller caught her attention. She looked at the identical boys in each seat and asked, "Are they twins?"
"We stood there about 20 minutes talking," Carter-Perpall recalled. "Before it was over, we exchanged phone numbers."
The women talked again, compared notes and set out to create the kind of group they would have found helpful during their own pregnancies, deliveries and early days at home. They spread the word mostly among friends and acquaintances. They kept hearing the same stories about pregnancy complications and so much fear.
Before long, the women had assembled about 25 members. The group is open to all, but so far all of its members are African American. During their research, the members discovered that African American women have the highest incidences of twin births of all ethnic groups. African American women also have complications more often than their peers of other races.
At the November meeting, only the second gathering of the group, the members agreed to become a local chapter of a national group called Mothers of Twins. Of the seven women present that day, four of them had given birth prematurely.
Soon, the talk turned to more practical matters.
"When my boys were babies, I wondered, how do I go to the grocery store with my babies," one mother recalled. "I ended up putting one in the sling and one in the seat on the basket."
Carter-Perpall piped in: "I did that, too. Or, I would grab my mother or someone to sit in the car with them."
Another mother pointed out that some grocery stores now have carts with double seats for twins.
"These are the kinds of things we can share with other mothers to make their lives easier," Gray said, after conversation moved from grocery carts to medical information to schools.
Of all the women in the group, Gray had the most difficult pregnancy. She suffered severe fibroid tumors and acid reflux, and just three months after learning she was pregnant, the doctor ordered her to stay in bed off her feet all day. For the remainder of her pregnancy, Gray was allowed to get out of bed and into a wheelchair only every other day to shower.
Her husband, Charles, 40, and mother swapped turns at her bedside to cheer and care for her. Then, on Aug. 30, 1994, Gray gave birth. Her blood pressure shot up, and she had to have surgery. The first daughter, Jasmine, was delivered, weighing nearly 4 1/2 pounds. But the second one, Jessica, was breeched. She was born a short time later, weighing just over four pounds.
As the happy couple snapped pictures of their little girls, they tried to look past the wires snaking from the tiny heads, arms and hands. Doctors said Jessica might not make it. But the little girl just kept hanging on.
Suddenly, though, a week after the twins were born, Gray's mother fell dead from a blood clot that had started in her leg. The twins were still in the hospital's intensive care unit.
"To deal with the enormity of trying to get them here and, then, to have her check out on me the way she did, God had to have given me strength," said Gray, a faithful church member and popular soloist. "I was angry at God. It was the worst thing I ever experienced in my entire life."
Time and lots of prayer helped her to heal. Then, in October, she got a call from Carter-Perpall, an acquaintance from college, who invited her to the Mothers of Twins meeting. The women shared their stories, laughed together, cried, but most of all, agreed to be there for each other and for other women who get the joyous news that can sometimes lead to such trials.
And the trials seem to go on. The Grays, long suspicious that their 5-year-old daughters have a speech disorder, got recent confirmation of it.
"You deal with the cards you're dealt," Gray said. "You thank God for what you have. You realize that nothing in life is promised. You make the best of what you have, and God will use your experience to help others."
That's what Gray kept thinking as she looked around the room at the group's Christmas party. That's why someone in the group asked everyone to hold hands and sing Christmas carols.
That's why some of the women got all sentimental or, as some of the men joked, hokey.
But something about Christmas, the magic of the season, the miracle of that long-ago birth in Bethlehem, the miracles of their own, made it all okay.
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md., 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.
CAPTION: Twins Phillip, left, and Andrew Dupree look at a picture album of twins during the Christmas party thrown several weeks ago by the new chapter of the Mothers of Twins group.